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: