Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Initiative: projects we've funded

Eleven leading African researchers are the recipients of major funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development to establish cutting-edge research and training programmes across the continent. DELTAS Africa is managed by the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) in partnership with the funders. AESA leads on decision making for science, technology and innovation supported through the programme.

Training Health Researchers into Vocational Excellence in East Africa

Training Health Researchers into Vocational Excellence in East Africa -2 (THRiVE-2) partnership is a training programme that aims to transform East African universities into world class research hubs for key emerging health issues in the region.

By training and developing the scientific careers of PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, THRiVE-2 will build on the successes of THRiVE, a regional network of research excellence, to create research leaders in infectious diseases, neglected tropical disease, maternal, neonatal and reproductive health, and non-communicable diseases.

The programme is led by Professor Nelson Sewankambo, a world-renowned HIV and infectious diseases researcher at Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Uganda. With significant experience of training and mentoring many promising Ugandan scientists and delivering large training programmes, Professor Sewankambo has a strong record of achieving scientific excellence.

THRiVE-2 has already identified over 300 potential supervisors and mentors working on cutting-edge research to strengthen multidisciplinary collaborations. By working together in multidisciplinary teams, researchers can provide effective and long-term solutions to health challenges.

Developing Excellence in Leadership and Genetic Training for Malaria Elimination in Sub-Saharan Africa

Understanding the genetics of malaria parasites and tracking malaria parasite migration and drug resistance - these are two key ways in which scientists can begin to develop new malaria drugs and vaccines and make progress with elimination programmes.

Mali is to lead sub-Saharan Africa in becoming a bioinformatics hub for university-based research, vastly increasing the region’s ability to drive forward this vital research.

To do this, significant expertise is needed to capture and analyse genome data from across malaria-endemic countries. The Developing Excellence in Leadership and Genetic Training scheme will develop a training programme for African scientists in these countries to ensure a strong knowledge base and to support this new capacity.

Programme leader Professor Abdoulaye Djimde will use the £5.5 million award to train graduates, doctoral fellows and postdoctoral fellows in the genomics and bioinformatics of malaria. He will also work to develop ways of enhancing the understanding and sharing of relevant genetic data with intervention and eradication programmes.

An Associate Professor of Parasitology and Mycology, Professor Djimde is a highly accomplished malaria scientist and is the programme coordinator of the West African Network for Clinical Trials of Antimalarial Drugs. 

The research institutes involved in the programme are the strongest African-based partners in the discipline of malaria genetic data and represent a large part of the total malaria genomic capacity in Africa. 

The programme has a strong scientific focus on this issue and benefits from multiple African and international collaborations to provide access to training and research facilities.

African Science Partnership for Intervention Research Excellence

African Science Partnership for Intervention Research Excellence (Afrique One-ASPIRE) will expand research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa by focusing on '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.

The programme, based at the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques (CSRS) in Côte d’Ivoire, will support West and East African researchers through a structured programme of scientific training, supervision and mentorship across thematic training programmes.

Building on the achievements of Afrique One, the programme brings together seven core African institutions with seven collaborating ones in Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Chad, along with two European partners in Switzerland and the UK.

The programme is led by Professor Bassirou Bonfoh, a veterinary scientist with substantial research experience in infectious disease epidemiology and the Director General of CSRS in Côte d’Ivoire. 

With over 65 years of expertise in human and animal health and food security, CSRS is a strong lead institution and Professor Bonfoh also has a strong track record in leadership, along with fellowship and training supervision.

The thematically driven programme focuses on endemic zoonoses, which are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Aiming to link emerging research institutions across East and West Africa, the programme will develop research capacity and training for the next generation of African scientists facing ecosystem health challenges.

Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa

Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa+ (CARTA+) will continue to develop a critical mass of multidisciplinary researchers who work in research-supportive environments in Africa, with the aim of improving public and population health.

The programme builds on the achievements of CARTA – an initiative aiming to build and retain a vibrant African academy - by seeking to:

  • maintain the pipeline of high-quality doctoral candidates and graduates
  • institutionalise aspects of CARTA in African universities to ensure its impact
  • foster career paths for high achieving fellows through post-doctoral positions and a range of mentorship and support.

CARTA+ will build on its multidisciplinary approach, encouraging research leaders to flourish and become ‘change agents’ in their universities. It will promote innovations that support a vibrant academic environment in Africa.

A key way of achieving this will be to strengthen links between universities and research centres to encourage collaboration over supervision of graduates and faculty visits to share best practice.

CARTA+ is co-led by Professor Alex Ezeh, Executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and Professor Sharon Fonn at University of the Witwatersrand.

Professor Alex Ezeh is a demographer by training and has led APHRC since 2000. He has a strong fellow supervision record individually and through the CARTA programme.

Professor Sharon Fonn is a public health specialist at the Wits School of Public Health where she played a role as the Head of the School for ten years and as acting Dean of the Medical faculty. She has a long history in capacity development at national and international levels.

Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders

The Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL) is a high-quality training programme designed to develop outstanding young African scientists into world-class research leaders.

Based at the Kemri-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kenya, IDeAL will be available to young researchers, from intern to postdoctoral level, with the aim of keeping scientists at African institutions through a defined programme of recruitment, supervision, mentorship, multidisciplinary approaches and clear career paths.

IDeAL will look to spread expertise by engaging with universities in the region and supporting researchers who want to gain appointments in these institutions. Collaborations between graduates of the IDeAL programme and other institutions will aim to foster training across the whole spectrum of health research, from basic biology to health systems research.

The £8 million initiative is led by Dr Samson Kinyanjui, who is a recognised leader in research capacity strengthening. 

The award builds on a previous Wellcome Trust Strategic Award, which has attracted and trained more than 200 people since 2008. Of those, more than 50 are now postdoctoral researchers, 32 are PhD students and more than 50 are research officers in various organisations across Africa. The award has led to more than 250 publications, with significant impact on scientific knowledge and health policies in Kenya and globally.

Strong mentorship is at the heart of IDeAL. All PhD students will have at least two supervisors and three additional mentors from leading local and international researchers. The KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme provides a vibrant research environment, and IDeAL is expected to result in a highly successful scientific output.

African Mental Health Research Initiative

There are only 11 psychiatrists in Zimbabwe and a mounting burden of mental health disorders linked to HIV, poverty and gender-based violence. As a vastly underserved discipline in sub-Saharan Africa, mental health is becoming of increasing concern to governments with only limited intervention programmes available.

Researchers in Ethiopia, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe will be trained in these countries, through fellowships, to build scientific excellence in the area. They will be trained to understand the burden of mental health within populations, as well as risk factors such as poverty and HIV. 

There will be a strong focus on developing community-based intervention strategies with the aim of addressing the treatment gap that exists in sub-Saharan Africa. To address this gap, these countries need world-class mental health researchers to train lay healthcare workers and to design and implement robust intervention measures.

The programme will be led by Dr Dixon Chibanda from the University of Zimbabwe, who has been awarded £4.2 million to lead the African Mental Health Research Initiative (AMARI). It will develop a cohort of outstanding mental health researchers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Chibanda, a clinical psychiatrist, has first-hand experience of leading a community-based intervention programme as he established ‘Friendship Benches’ in 2006. The project uses lay health workers trained in low-intensity cognitive behaviour therapy to help individuals cope with the stresses of daily life, as well as common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. 

The project has already produced encouraging results, but if it is to be successfully scaled up then the research base for mental health must be strengthened and integrated within public health.

Dr Chibanda is an established mental health researcher and WHO consultant on mental health. He has contributed to the development of national and international health policies, making him ideally placed to support the integration of this new research initiative into existing public health programmes.

Sub-Saharan African Consortium for Advanced Biostatistical Training

Master’s and PhD students across Africa will be trained to become experts in biostatistics with the Sub-Saharan African Consortium for Advanced Biostatistical Training (S2ACABT) project.

The training programme will address a fundamental gap in expertise in the area of biostatistics, a discipline that is essential for a broad range of research areas and crucial for developing robust research questions.

The £3.5 million consortium is led by Professor Tobias Chirwa from the University of the Witwatersrand. He is a leading researcher in biostatistics - mainly related to the epidemiology of infectious diseases and health interventions - and has extensive experience in providing training and supervision to researchers.

The consortium will emphasise the use of open access data generated through demographic and health surveillance sites and health research in the region. Recent funding initiatives have hugely increased the volume of high-quality data generated, but there are clear discrepancies between the amount of data and the capacity to analyse it.

By creating a network of biostatisticians and informed researchers across nine African countries, newly formed collaborations will seek to build the profile of careers in biostatistics. Students from high schools and undergraduate universities will be targeted, with a deliberate effort made to encourage female applicants. 

Students who join the programme will be supported by supervisors including leading statisticians, epidemiologists and modellers from international institutions.

Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence

The Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV research excellence will strengthen the scientific research base for two diseases that account for a major burden of morbidity and mortality in Africa.

The network will expand basic, clinical and translational research programmes that focus on HIV and TB. 

HIV and TB disproportionately affect sub-Saharan Africa, but Africans are under-represented in the scientific effort to tackle these issues. Investing in talented young researchers, and in African institutions, will help accelerate discoveries in these fields and equip the continent to be better prepared for the public health challenges of the future.

The £7.3 million award is led by Professor Thumbi Ndung’u from the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH), a research institute of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

In addition to a strong track record in research centred on immune responses to HIV-1 control to support vaccine design, Professor Ndung’u has a commitment to training that complements the expanded training portfolio. 

The network links sites in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia and aims to expand over time.

The programme will benefit from existing HIV and TB research programmes and the wider network of expertise present in the region. Training will be inclusive of all career stages, from interns to postdoctoral fellows, and participants will be equipped with research knowledge and skills from all partners involved.

Innovative approaches, including the provision of collaborative pilot grants and establishing programmes in clinical research and community engagement, will encourage a strong network that supports research excellence in these priority disease areas.

West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens

Outstanding geneticists from across West Africa will be brought together to address the underlying causes of both communicable and non-communicable diseases in African populations, in a project led by researchers at the University of Ghana.

The programme - which will be supported by local, regional and international partners - aims to improve the understanding of disease mechanisms for both communicable and non-communicable diseases by training research leaders in the fields of pathogen biology and human genetics.

The programme is led by Dr Gordon Akanzuwine Awandare, who returned to his native Ghana after a career in the USA with the aim of establishing his own lab to continue his research activities. The programme will support African researchers conducting genetics research, without requiring them to leave the continent.

The £5.3 million project will expand the established training programme led by the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP). The new award will build on a World Bank grant to support the training of Master’s and PhD students, and will enable the addition of a much-needed postdoctoral programme.

Expanding training to include a postdoctoral programme will help WACCBIP attract highly skilled new PhD graduates, as well as providing opportunities for retaining current PhD students. 

In addition to the postdoctoral programmes in pathogen biology and human genetics, PhD trainees will be supported in study visits to partner labs in the UK or USA, a mentoring scheme will be established and short courses in research ethics will be run.

Makerere University-UVRI Centre for Excellence for Infection and Immunity Research and Training

African scientists and institutions will lead the strengthening of research and training in infection and immunity research.

Makerere University and the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) will offer fellowships for training African research leaders in bioinformatics, immunity and infectious diseases. Their research will focus on infectious diseases including parasitology, the interactions between infection and non-communicable diseases, and emerging and re-emerging infections - particularly zoonoses.

Professor Alison Elliott from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who is based at UVRI, will lead the £4.7 million programme. In addition to having a strong research track record in immunology and infectious diseases, she has supervised and trained many students directly through existing programmes.

Fellowships will cover all career levels and will expand the current infection and immunity research and training programme at Makerere University and UVRI (MUII), which has already leveraged significant funding for further research. 

Fellows will also engage in outreach through local and regional partners including the Wellcome Trust Africa Centre, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the MRC Unit in The Gambia and the Centre de Recherches Médicales de Lambaréné in Gabon.

MUII attracts bright young biomedical researchers in Uganda and provides access to some of the best labs and research support in East Africa. It also provides access to collaborations with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Cambridge University, and other leading international centres.

Malaria Research Capacity Development in West and Central Africa

Leading researchers in West and Central Africa will be brought together to help eliminate malaria through a new programme led by the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) in Senegal.

Malaria Research Capacity Development in West and Central Africa builds on the achievements of the Malaria Capacity Development Consortium (MCDC) to provide PhD, early and senior post-doctoral fellowships in areas of research relevant to malaria elimination.

The programme is led by world-leading malaria researcher and clinician Professor Oumar Gaye. It will work across five West and Central African countries - Senegal, Mali, The Gambia, Cameroon and Ghana - and three European institutions in the UK and Denmark to improve malaria research capacity.

While malaria incidence has significantly decreased over the last five years, the emergence of insecticide and drug resistance demands further research into the disease.

The programme will respond to this need by integrating individual training projects within existing research programmes in the following areas: the emergence of insecticide and drug resistance; changing malaria epidemiology; the maintenance of transmission hotspots; and the cost-effectiveness of interventions.

Professor Gaye’s commitment to supporting women in research and to translating research into policy and practice are demonstrated through the programme. Seeking to engage national, regional and community stakeholders, he aims to make major policy contributions for the treatment, management and control of malaria.