Today, African and international partners launched the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), a new initiative that aims to help drive Africa’s research agenda and build scientific capacity across the continent. AESA was created by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency with US$5.5 million in initial seed funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
The AESA launch ceremony also featured the announcements of two grant programmes intended to support Africa’s future research leaders: the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa Awards and Grand Challenges Africa.
Closing the Science Gap
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. Although more than 60% of African countries have increased their recent investments in science, over half of African countries still invest less than 0.5% of their GDP on research – far less than the global target of 1%. Increased domestic investment in research is needed to accelerate the long-term health and development progress required to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
"Now is the moment for African governments to take action and prioritise funding for local scientific research and innovation – our continent's future depends on it,” said H.E. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius. “As a scientist, entrepreneur and a president, I've seen first-hand the impact that investments in science can have both on individual researchers and on a country's development.”
Endorsed by African Heads of State and Government, the Nairobi-based AESA aims to support the implementation of the African Union’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy (STISA-2024) and the African Health Strategy (AHS) for 2015-2030. Ministers of Health tasked the NEPAD Agency within the context of AHS to develop the continent’s health research agenda at the AU Specialised Technical Committee on Health, Population and Drug Control in April 2015.
“The launch of AESA today is a significant milestone in driving investment in health research and lifting science across the continent,” said H.E. Dr Ibrahim Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the NEPAD Agency. “AESA will ensure that Africa contributes to the global pool of scientific knowledge and technological innovations.”
In addition to serving as a scientific think tank, AESA will manage more than US$70 million in Africa-focused research programmes as part of its broader effort to build pan-African scientific capacity and leadership.
“Building capacity for science, technology and innovation is a strategic and critical investment for Africa’s future,” said Prof Berhanu Abegaz, Executive Director of AAS. “Today, we are proud to launch new initiatives that will help harness Africa’s scientific potential to contribute to the wellbeing of Africa’s people.”
Investing in Local Researchers
To this end, AESA will play a key role in the implementation of the two grant programmes announced today, DELTAS Africa and Grand Challenges Africa.
“Africa is home to some of the most dynamic innovators and institutions, poised to advance the continent’s research agenda,” said Dr Thomas Kariuki, Director of AESA. “Working in collaboration with key African and international partners, AESA will help provide researchers with the funding, training and resources they need to succeed and drive forward Africa’s development.”
The US$70 million DELTAS Africa programme – initiated by the Wellcome Trust in partnership with AESA, and including US$10 million in additional funding from DFID announced today – supports the African-led development of world-class researchers and research leaders across the continent. Over an initial period of five years (2015-2020), the programme will support collaborative teams to conduct health research, offer training and mentorship and improve health research infrastructure. Following a joint review, operations and leadership of DELTAS Africa will be transferred to AESA early next year.
Today, the first seven DELTAS Africa awards, new grants were announced, focusing on locally relevant research including infection and immunity, mental health and biostatistics. The programmes will be led from universities and research institutes in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, and involve collaboration across the continent and with international research centres.
“The Wellcome Trust has a long-established track record in investing in health research in sub-Saharan Africa. DELTAS Africa is a new approach and a long-term commitment, which has its centre of gravity and decision making firmly based in Africa,” said Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust. “We welcome DFID's announcement today that it will provide additional funding to DELTAS Africa. The vision is to support the new generation of African research leaders. Individuals and teams from across the continent will play a leading role in shaping and driving world class, locally driven and relevant health research that improves human health.”
Grand Challenges Africa
The Grand Challenges family of grant initiatives seeks to engage innovators from around the world to solve the most pressing challenges in global health and development. Today, that family has grown with the announcement of Grand Challenges Africa. Led by AAS through the AESA platform, Grand Challenges Africa will build on the success of local Grand Challenges programmes in India, Brazil and South Africa, as well as the strong base of African Grand Challenges grantees funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and USAID.
Initially, Grand Challenges Africa will focus on supporting the over 400 existing Grand Challenges grantees in Africa, including by hosting a 2016 convening of African grantees. The programme will ultimately develop, launch and manage Africa-specific Grand Challenges targeted to the development challenges preventing African countries from reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Grand Challenges Africa builds on over a decade of Grand Challenges investment in local innovators, including hundreds of Grand Challenges grants awarded to innovators across Africa,” said Trevor Mundel, President of Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re excited to work with AESA to support African innovators in finding transformative solutions to major health and development challenges.”
Yesterday, Grand Challenges Explorations launched four new calls for proposals focused on antimicrobial resistance, newborn and infant gut health, digital financial services and global health priority areas. Initial grants will be for US$100,000 and successful projects will be eligible to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1million. For more information or to submit a two-page application, visit www.grandchallenges.org.
The Way Forward
In the long term, and through initiatives like Grand Challenges Africa and DELTAS, AESA and its partners hope to translate declarations of support from African governments into concrete funding and programmatic commitments, and help drive Africa’s R&D agenda, while building scientific capacity across the continent to help countries reach their health and development goals.