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Leading African scientists to drive continent’s research agenda

MalariaGEN collaborators amongst first recipients of the DELTAS Africa awards

News 10 Sep 2015
Human Parasite
Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science. Wellcome Trust.

Seven leading African researchers are the recipients of major funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development (DFID) to establish cutting-edge research and training programmes across the continent.

The DELTAS Africa programmes establish world-class research environments at African universities with a strong focus on creating training opportunities for the next generation of researchers. Many of the awards allow research to be carried out where the health challenges are greatest, and the scheme includes funding for the genetic analysis of drug-resistant malaria across East and West Africa.

MalariaGEN collaborators are amongst the first recipients. Under the leadership of Prof. Abdoulaye Djimdé, the Plasmodium Diversity Network Africa (PDNA) has received funding for a capacity building initiative, the Developing Excellence in Leadership and Genetic Training for Malaria Elimination in Sub-Saharan Africa (DELGEME). A key focus for DELGEME will be improving the understanding and dissemination of genetic data relevant to malaria interventions and eradication programmes.

Another longstanding MalariaGEN collaborator, Dr Gordon Awandare of the University of Ghana, has received funding to extend the scope of the mission of the West African Center for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) established at the University of Ghana in 2013. Their mission is to improve diagnosis, prevention and control of tropical diseases by providing advanced level training and research on the cell and molecular biology of infectious pathogens like malaria.

This new, long-term strategy for funding African science, which has its centre of gravity and decision-making process based firmly in the continent, is aimed at supporting the next generation of researchers to conduct relevant research and, as a result, more effectively improve human health.

In total, the DELTAS Africa scheme will award over £46 million (approximately $70 million US dollars) over an initial period of five years. The programmes are led from universities and research institutes in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. All the programmes involve collaboration across the continent, including between French-speaking and English-speaking countries, and with international research centres.

The DELTAS Africa awards give African institutions greater ownership of training scientists and researchers, often in countries where becoming a scientist is not a recognised career path. In addition, outstanding students who routinely leave the continent for their training will now have the opportunity to develop their careers within Africa.

The vision for DELTAS Africa is that early next year the awards will be managed by a new research initiative in Africa, AESA (Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa), which has been created by the African Academy of Sciences and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). AESA has been working in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID.

The awards build on other Wellcome Trust activities to bring excellent research to Africa, for example the genomics programme H3 Africa, the African Institutions Initiative and the Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programmes in Kenya, Malawi and South Africa.

Professor Abdoulaye Djimdé, Director of the PDNA said “The idea for the PDNA began in conversations among members of MalariaGEN at the Genomic Epidemiology of Malaria Conference in Hinxton, UK in 2012. From that nucleus, and with seed funding from the MRC Centre for Genomics and Global Health our African-led network was established in 2013 and has gone from strength to strength. African scientists have a role to play in tackling malaria and as a network we will be able to further the science of genomic epidemiology in Africa, and help many young researchers to get state-of-the-art technical and analytical training in this challenging field.”

Dr Gordon Awandare, Director of WACCBIP at the University of Ghana said “The vision of the DELTAS initiative aligns perfectly with our own aspirations at WACCBIP, which include providing advanced training of health professionals and increasing research and innovation to guide development of new approaches to disease diagnosis, prevention, and control. Through this collaborative programme we will build on our strengths in pathogen biology research by incorporating genetics which is critical for a complete understanding of disease mechanisms for both communicable and non-communicable diseases.”

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust said: “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. We welcome DFID’s announcement today that it will provide additional funding to DELTAS.

“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 research that improves human health.”

The first awardees

Dr Gordon A Awandare for the WACCBIP-Wellcome Trust DELTAS Programme
Institution: University of Ghana, Ghana. Award: £5.1 million

Dr Dickson Chibanda for AMARI: African Mental Health Research Initiative
Institution: University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe. Award: £4.1 million

Professor Tobias F Chirwa for the Sub-Saharan Africa Advanced Training Programme for Leadership and Excellence in Biostatistics
Institution: University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Award: £3.5 million

Professor Abdoulaye Djimdé for Developing Excellence in Leadership and Genetic Training for Malaria Elimination in Sub-Saharan Africa (DELGEME)
Institution: University of Science Techniques and Technologies of Bamako, Mali. Award: £5.2 million

Professor Alison Elliott for the Makerere University UVRI Centre of Excellence for Infection & Immunity Research and Training (MUII-plus)
Institution: Uganda Virus Research Institute, Uganda. Award: £4.6 million

Dr Samson M Kinyanjui for the Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL)
Institution: KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kenya. Award: £8 million

Professor Thumbi Ndung’u for the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV research Excellence
Institution: K RITH, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Afrcia. Award: £7.3 million.

To read more about the DELTAS awards, visit the Wellcome Trust’s news page.