Plans cemented for African health innovation

Lack of funding and fragmentation of aid has hindered African drug development Copyright: WHO/P. Virot

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[CAPE TOWN] Plans to tackle Africa’s diseases with home-grown drugs and diagnostics have been reinforced with a second meeting of the African Network for Drugs and Diagnosis Innovation (ANDI).

Almost 300 researchers and health policymakers from across the continent gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, this week (4–7 October) for the ANDI conference, along with donor agencies.

ANDI, which held its first meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, in October 2008, aims to strengthen health research in Africa by funding networking between scientists, building a sustainable research environment and helping translate research into products, as well as funding research directly.

It will be funded in two ways, says Robert Ridley, director of the WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (WHO-TDR).

Funds will be received directly from agencies and an endowment fund of around US$600 million will be set up, from which interest earnings of around US$30 million a year will provide supplementary money for activities.

"We want the endowment fund to address research and health problems in Africa," says Solomon Nwaka, a leader in drugs for infectious tropical disease at the WHO-TDR.

"Lack of funding and fragmentation of aid has always weakened Africa’s potential in discovering its own drugs through innovative solutions," Nwaka told SciDev.Net, adding that the interest on the proposed endowment fund should offset fears about financial unsustainability.

Meeting participants approved an ANDI business plan for 2010–2015. Once ANDI is formally established as an organisation, its board will adopt the plan, says Ridley.

The ANDI taskforce — made up of members of WHO-TDR, the African Development Bank (ADB) and the European Commission — is now in discussion with various international and multilateral organisations about funding, including the ADB, which has provisionally agreed to manage the funds.

Initial funders will decide where on the continent ANDI will be based, and five research hubs are planned for Central, North, East, West, and Southern Africa.

Anthony Mbewu, president of South African Medical Research Council, says that, as well as receiving money from donors, ANDI will start a fundraising drive to African governments.

"The need for innovation in African R&D is greater than ever," says Mbewu. "We cannot depend on developed countries to provide solutions to diseases that disproportionately affect Africa. There is great optimism for the success of ANDI in addressing these needs."