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[ACCRA] A Nigerian scientist based in Ghana is one of four researchers from developing countries who received US$100,000 each to pursue their dream ideas for solving global health problems.

Olufunke Cofie, a soil scientist at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research's Challenge Program on Water and Food will develop fertiliser pellets from treated human waste to boost agricultural productivity and improve sanitation.

She is one of the latest 88 winners in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health programme, funded through the Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative, which include scientists from Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya and the Philippines.

"Recycling readily available excrement has the potential to both reduce the environmental pollution burden and prolong the lifespan of [waste] treatment plants, while also significantly improving soil productivity," Cofie told SciDev.Net.

Cofie will explore using faecal sludge as a source of organic matter and nutrients. She will also address the negative perception in some communities of using human excrement in agriculture.

Since 2000, Cofie has been leading collaborative projects on turning faecal sludge and urban waste into something useful.

"The award is encouraging in the sense that we can go one step further in the research process [to create pellets]. It is not an end itself but we can surely add value to what we have been doing," she said.

Since its launch in 2008, the GCE initiative has awarded grants of US$100,000 to nearly 500 researchers from more than 40 countries. Successful projects can apply for a grant of up to US$1 million.

"We believe that truly transformative technologies are needed to overcome the most persistent health and development challenges," said Chris Wilson, director of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Discovery programme.

"If ideas like the one presented by Olufunke Cofie can show proof of concept in making sanitation services truly safe and sustainable, the implication is that they can help reduce the burden of diarrhoeal disease by 20–40 per cent, and save the lives of millions of children," he told SciDev.Net.

The initiative has specifically targeted developing countries, he said.

Four scientists from developing countries are among the 88 winners, along with one from Brazil, one from India and two from China.