It is in the true sense of pan-Africanism – strengthening bonds of solidarity between Africans for Africans - that today, July 3, saw 11 cutting edge, public health related, research programmes – including 54 institutions in 21 African countries - converge at Accra, Ghana, for the second “Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS Africa) Annual Meeting”.
The largest of these programmes is the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE), which is administered from its lead institute – the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) - in Durban, South Africa.
“We are so proud to be participating at the DELTAS annual meeting where some of our fellows will be presenting their work on HIV and TB,” said Dr Denis Chopera, SANTHE Programme Executive Manager. “So far, we have recruited 51 fellows at graduate intern, masters, PhD and post-doctoral levels. In our effort to develop HIV and TB research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa, our fellows are from diverse African backgrounds comprising of 9 different nationalities (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Botswana, Rwanda and Zambia) and nearly 70% of the them are female.”
SANTHE and its 10 partner programmes are all collaborators in the DELTAS Africa initiative - a $100 million scheme, launched in 2015 by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the NEPAD Agency’s Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), and funded by the Wellcome Trust and the UK’s Department for International Development. DELTAS Africa’s mission is to support African-led development of world class researchers and research leaders in Africa. Broadly speaking, it supports collaborating teams to conduct health research, offer training fellowships and mentorship, and invest in research infrastructure.
Having made significant strides in employing staff, attracting additional funding, gaining recognition on a global scale for their researchers’ scientific excellence, and recruiting up to 500 masters, PhD and post-doctoral fellows (half of whom are women) in total, the partners will showcase their success stories through an exciting meeting programme that includes workshops; an opening address from Prof Frimpong- Boateng, Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ghana; programme updates; exciting presentations from a variety of fellows about their research, and a special lecture from Nobel Laurate and molecular biologist, Peter Agre.
“We are glad to be hosting some of Africa’s best minds in Ghana, which shows a commitment from our scientists to galvanise resources to solving our pressing health challenges,” said Prof Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation.
“Through DELTAS Africa, we are contributing to increasing the population of African health researchers and women scientists and providing the infrastructure needed to do quality research to improve health outcomes and to retain our best talent on the continent,” said Tom Kariuki, AAS Interim Executive Director and AESA Director.
Africa’s global share of health researchers is 0.1% while female researchers across different scientific disciplines account for a global share of only 3%. This limits the continent’s efforts to improve its public health systems, a prerequisite to creating healthy nations. Thus, the continent, which represents 17% of the world’s population, bears a disproportionate 25% of the global disease burden. Devastating outbreaks such as Ebola have underscored the lack of trained doctors and other healthcare providers, as well as outdated and underdeveloped medical and research systems.
By 2034, the continent is forecast to be home to the world’s largest working age population of 1.1 billion.
DELTAS Africa promises to reap the population dividend by improving research environments, training researchers who are conducting important studies that shed light on infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and population and public health challenges. The Annual Meeting also provides an essential platform for intra-African collaboration, which still significantly lags behind foreign collaboration. Of the continent’s six most productive research nations – Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia — none of its top collaborators are fellow African nations.
“Collaboration is key to optimising our limited resources to solve our common challenges,” says Alphonsus Neba, DELTAS Africa Programme Manager
The 11 DELTAS Africa partner programmes hail from Mali, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, South Africa (2), Uganda (2), Kenya (2) and Zimbabwe.