Research boost creates more opportunities for African scientists

African research teams in Ivory Coast, Kenya, Senegal and Uganda have been awarded significant support to conduct world class health research and train the future generation of the continent’s scientists.

The Wellcome Trust has committed a further £21 million to the DELTAS Africa initiative, which aims to improve health in Africa through research driven by the most urgent regional challenges.

The four new research programmes will address a range of health needs, from emerging infectious diseases to neonatal health, population health and elimination of malaria.

All four are committed to training the next generation of researchers through programmes that support women in science, create opportunities for masters, doctoral and post-doctoral candidates and provide mentorship.

 A team specialising in generating evidence about what strategies are effective for strengthening research in lower and middle income countries will work alongside the DELTAS Africa initiative programmes. The Learning Research Programme will investigate how best to train and develop world-class researchers, foster their careers and collaborations and promote research uptake into policy.

Including today’s announcement, DELTAS Africa has funded 11 African research teams, a total investment of £60 million (approximately $100 million US dollars), over an initial five-year period.

Seven awards were announced in September 2015 when the five-year scheme, which is a partnership between the Wellcome Trust, the African Academy of Sciences’ Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AAS-AESA) and the Department for International Development (DFID), UK was launched.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust said: “Strengthening health research across sub-Saharan Africa is a powerful way to improve people’s lives in the continent and around the world. Health crises such as Ebola and now Zika, and long-standing threats such as malaria, TB, HIV and increasingly the non-communicable diseases, will only be solved with a strong research base to inform public health measures and develop new treatments and vaccines.

“Creating more opportunities for professional scientists supports economic growth and provides a clearer pathway for researchers who want to pursue a successful scientific career in Africa."

Currently, Africa accounts for 15% of the global population and 25% of the global disease burden, but only produces about 2% of the world’s research output. A shortage of skilled personnel - Africa only has 79 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States- and limited infrastructure have contributed to the low research outputs.

By supporting the training of scientists within the continent, DELTAS Africa is seeking to stem the ‘brain drain’ of the best African scientists and promote Africa-led development of world class research leaders to solve the continent’s most pressing health needs. The scheme will run for five years, but fits into a longer term strategy with a 20 year time horizon.

The deliberate interventions by the programmes to support women are also designed to change the status quo which has seen fewer women opting for careers in science on the continent.

Professor Oumar Gaye, a malaria researcher and clinician at Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal and a DELTAS Africa awardee, said: “Unfortunately there is still a deficit of women in science, so female candidates will be encouraged to apply for studentships and research fellowships. They will have access to additional professional and career development support and training, maternity leave will be supported and flexibility in managing careers and family breaks will be established.”

DELTAS Africa will be handed over to AESA in the second half of the year as part of its vision to shift the centre of gravity and decision making process to the continent.

Dr Tom Kariuki, AESA Director, said: “This shift represents a new era in defining partnerships between Africa and the rest of the world and in improving the continent’s research and science management capacities.”

He added: “It is a massive vote of confidence in Africa’s improving R&D capabilities as captured in the mantra of an Africa Rising.”

The four new DELTAS Africa awardees are:

  • Professor Bassirou Bonfoh, Director of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifique (CSRS) in Cote d’Ivoire is awarded £5.25 million for the African Science Partnership for Intervention Research Excellence (Afrique One-ASPIRE). The centre will focus on focus on the ‘One Health’ – the concept that the health of animals, human and the environment is interconnected - as an approach to tackle major challenges in ecosystem health.
  • Professor Alex Ezeh, the Executive Director for African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) in Kenya and Professor Sharon Fonn at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa is awarded £5.25 million for the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa+ (CARTA+). The initiative, which has been running since 2007, seeks to train and produce postgraduates to lead world-class multidisciplinary research that makes a positive impact on public and population health.
  • Professor Oumar Gaye from the Université Cheikh Anta Diop is awarded £5.25 million for the Malaria Research Capacity Development in West and Central Africa (MACARD), an initiative to provide PhD, early and senior post-doctoral fellowships in areas of research relevant to malaria elimination with a special focus on supporting women in research.
  • Professor Nelson Sewankambo Professor of Medicine at Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Uganda is awarded £5.25 million for the Training Health Researchers into Vocational Excellence in East Africa (THRiVE-2) partnership. The initiative seeks to transform East African universities into world class research hubs for infectious diseases, neglected tropical disease, neonatal and reproductive health and non-communicable diseases.

Alongside DELTAS Africa awards, Professor Imelda Bates at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine will lead the Learning Research Programme (LRP), supported with an award of £800,000. The aim of the project is to produce research-based learning from the DELTAS Africa initiative about how to train and develop world-class researchers, foster their careers and collaborations, and promote research uptake.