The controversial prize was first proposed in 2008 but has been in limbo for the past four years as a result of opposition from western diplomats, who pointed to corruption and human-rights abuses in the country (see ‘UNESCO delays controversial science award‘). But Obiang didn’t give up (see ‘Controversial science prize back on UNESCO’s agenda‘), and in March, UNESCO’s executive board narrowly voted to change the award’s name and push ahead. The award is now called the Unesco–Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, to reflect the fact that the money, US$3 million over five years, will now be provided by the government of Equatorial Guinea, rather than Obiang’s private foundation. This change in sponsor from what was listed in the prize statutes had led UNESCO’s lawyers to advise against giving out the money, but UNESCO director general Irina Bokova, who personally opposed the award, felt she had to follow the wishes of the executive board, UNESCO officials told the New York Times.
The first three winners, who each get $100,000, will be given their prize at UNESCO headquarters in Paris tomorrow. They are: Maged Al-Sherbiny, from Egypt, for his work on vaccine development and diagnostics for hepatitis C and schistosomiasis; Felix Dapare Dakora, a plant scientist at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa, for tackling food scarcity through his work on the symbiosis between legumes and soil bacteria; and Rossana Arroyo, a molecular biologist at the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of the Mexican National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City for her work on the parasitic disease trichomoniasis.