Leading African scientists to drive continent’s research agenda

Dr Samson M Kinyanjui is one of the seven leading African researchers who are recipients of funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development (DFID) to establish cutting-edge research and training programmes across the continent. His £8 million award is enshrined under the Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL) in the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme

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, for example genetic analysis of drug-resistant malaria across East and West Africa, developing mental health programmes in countries where there is little or no investment, and locally relevant research into zoonotic infectious diseases.

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.

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.

Dr Thomas Kariuki, Director of AESA, said: Africa is home to some of the most dynamic innovators and institutions, poised to advance the continent’s research agenda. 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 other awardees include:

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 Djimde 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

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