Once upon a time, France the country of Louis Pasteur led the world in the unveiling of medical discoveries. Today, France watches from the sidelines as others make quantum leaps. Nowhere has this shift been more obvious than in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
The slow and consistent tipping of French medical research from an all-time high top ten international status is beyond bewildering. The sad part of this history is that it is still being written.
In the past decades, the French had enormous power over most African countries (even after colonization). France had a major lead in the medical sector and a strong economy. This was only for a while, as the Chinese and Americans gained more cards in African countries. Despite this non-beneficial exchange, the reasons for the decline in the medical research sector look more internal than otherwise.
Many external reasons would be given, but the fall started internally and the dip is still moving.
Amongst the many reasons for the plummeting of the medical research sector of France, these reasons hold strong accusations and have many backings.
Fall in the rate of employment
Back in the early 2000s, France had a civil service employment status for young researchers and they were employed on a large scale. The goal was to have long-term researchers, who started with medium-scale knowledge but would develop experience and full dexterity in the research sector before retirement.
This was done unfailingly over the past decades. But in 2019, a 60% drop in recruitment into the French National Conference of Scientific Research was recorded. This decrease occurred between 2010 and 2019. There were 400 recruitments in 2010, and 242 in 2019. Also in 2019, 1,070 posts for researchers were opened in universities which is a huge fall from 2,216 in 2010. Together with the lower posts, there was an age requirement of 34 years and above for recruitment, thereby withdrawing the civil service status from medical researchers.
Reduction in human resources with no other form of replacement is a major disturbance and one of the major causes of decline in the medical research sector.
Old and insufficient equipment
Back in the leading days, France was known for the acquisition of quality and user-friendly equipment; majorly in cryo-electron microscopy. After a decade, this same France has the poorest equipment in cryo-electron microscopy. The equipment is old, the quality is bad, and there are only three machines.
Quoting the words of Jean-Luc Autran, Director of the Institut Matèriaux Microèlectronique Nanosciences de Provence, “For more than three years, we have not renewed this equipment, which is used by three-quarters of the lab”. In France, there are only three (3), and none are of the new generation. In Germany, there are twenty (20)”. These pieces of equipment are the exact ones that have been used throughout the decade without replacement or upgrade. This reduction in capacity, traded their position amongst the leads, for a spot among followers.
Reduction in resources
The European Union made public a target of 3% of France’s GDP to be allocated to the medical research sector for efficiency. This target was maintained in the past decades which gave France a leading position in the research sector.
However, a loss in colonial and neocolonial influence has hurt all sectors; especially the economic sector. The revenue amassed from African countries was a strong contributor to France’s GDP. The loss of power over these countries had far-reaching negative implications for the economic status of the country. That being said, the mandatory 3% for medical research was reduced by the government to 2.2% in 2013 and has been on a consistent dip since then.
From the area of public spending, Germany, France’s replacement at the top offers more than 3% for medical research and France currently offers less than 0.8% to this sector. French researcher, Hugues de Thè is dismayed that France is funding the medical and biosciences research sector with only a fraction of what Germany allocates to funding
There is an expectation of a €5billion budget increase in the next decade, but this might be mere hasty speculation. More realistic estimates point towards a € 1 billion increase, a value which is just Band-Aid on the gaping wound that is France’s medical research sector.
Shortage of sources
Over the last 10 years, there were two major sources of funding for research organizations and universities.
- Funding from competitive pitches in National research agencies and European or regional framework programs.
- Direct funding from the government.
During these years, funds from the second source became low and unreliable. This left organizations and researchers in general with only one solid option.
This is a very disturbing factor, as the salaries of researchers have been grossly reduced.
The LPR suggested annual funding of 300 researchers with €200,000, and an increase in ANR funding, for a positive increase of at least 25% in 2027. However, this would cause a disturbance in the equality structure of funding in the future as the ratio of funding for ANR and many universities and organizations would be too large.
The major concern is the fact that nothing is being done to correct the causes of this backwardness. These problems seem to have come to stay.
The freefall in the medical research sector of France is a true eyesore. The importance of this sector cannot be overemphasized, as was seen last year during the pandemic when France failed to deliver a coronavirus vaccine. The remodeling of this sector is very necessary and will need a high level of consistency, as it would be a continuous process.
One solution is returning the civil service status to researchers. The age of employment or recruitment should be reduced as it was in the early 2000s.
Increasing the mechanical capacity for researchers is a necessary solution. The adoption of the latest technologies and functionalities in laboratories is a huge leap forward.
Funding would mostly be improved along with an improvement in the nation’s economic status, and allocations for public spending. The giant that is France’s medical research sector has fallen. however, who says it cannot rise again?