08 Jul 2009   |   News   |   Update from South African Department for Science & Technology
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Wellcome spends £30M to strengthen research capacity in Africa

More than 50 R&D institutions from 18 African countries are to take part in international consortia under a programme funded by the Wellcome Trust.

More than 50 R&D institutions from 18 African countries are to take part in international consortia under a £30 million programme funded by the Wellcome Trust to strengthen research capacity on the continent.

Wellcome is supporting the formation of seven new international and pan-African consortia through its African Institutions Initiative. Each partnership will led by an African institution, with the aim of developing institutional capacity to support and conduct health-related research.

The Trust already funds major programmes in Kenya, Malawi and South Africa, as well as individual research projects across the continent. The focus of this new initiative is to create consortia to build a critical mass of sustainable local research capacity by strengthening universities and research institutions and developing research networks.

“The African continent faces some of the world's most serious health problems stemming from disease and poverty,” said Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. “To tackle these problems, we need health research on the continent to develop in a vibrant research environment geared to national priorities. It is essential that the best and brightest researchers have access to training opportunities and career pathways in their home countries.”

Walport added, “There is no use training excellent researchers in Africa unless a first-class environment is also available in which they can develop their careers and pursue their research. Outstanding researchers are also essential in African countries to provide leadership and to educate future generations of African students and scientists.”

Alex Ezeh, Executive Director at the African Population and Health Research Centre in Kenya, is leading the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa, one of the consortia to have received funding through the initiative. He believes the initiative will be important for improving research in the region.

“Notwithstanding the attention it has historically received, research capacity remains very weak in Africa,” he said. “Indeed, existing research capacity-strengthening programmes and collaborative partnerships in Africa are largely driven by Northern academic and research institutions.”

“The Wellcome Trust initiative represents a truly innovative mechanism to position African scholars and institutions as leaders in the collaborative efforts to rebuild research capacity in the region. It holds strong promise of creating a new class of highly networked African scholars and institutions with the requisite skills to address the region's health challenges."

Each consortium is led by an African institution and includes research and higher education partners from across the continent and Europe, the US and Australia. While each operates independently and sets its own agenda, certain activities are common to most. These include: leadership training and professional development, PhD and postdoctoral fellowships, improved infrastructure, competitive grant schemes and the provision of up-to-date equipment.

“The aim of this initiative is to ensure that African universities become more centrally involved in health research endeavours in Africa,” said Jimmy Whitworth, Head of International Activities at the Wellcome Trust. “Through this initiative each consortium will focus on the needs of African universities to become platforms that can sustainably support internationally competitive scientific research.”


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