US$40 million funding boost for African researchers

The focus of the scheme will be on young researchers Copyright: USDA/Scott Bauer

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The UK-based medical charity the Wellcome Trust announced last week (11 April) that it would give £20 million (nearly US$40 million) towards training scientists in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This funding will benefit some of the least resourced scientists on the continent, Jimmy Whitworth, the Wellcome Trust’s head of international activities, told SciDev.Net.

"Sub-Saharan Africa has 11 per cent of the world’s population. It has 25 per cent of the global disease burden. Yet it only has one per cent of the resources being spent on health and research. So we’re doing something to try and rebalance that."

The focus will be on assisting young researchers who are completing or have recently completed their PhDs. They will receive training, for example in writing research proposals and how to structure and organise research.

"These researchers are starting to take their first steps towards actually leading and developing research. That’s where they need a lot of help and support," said Whitworth. 

The aim of the funding is to build up a pool of local researchers capable and sufficiently equipped to tackle critical problems in their countries, such as malaria and HIV. By funding training and support, the trust hopes to encourage talented researchers to stay and work in Africa.

"[These researchers] need mentors and sufficiently equipped institutions that allow them to do the work they want to do. They have to be treated as internationally competitive scientists and paid internationally competitive salaries," said Whitworth.

The one-off funding has been awarded to four projects. Malaria will be a critical focus, with £7 million (around US$14 million) being awarded to Brian Greenwood from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

Greenwood told SciDev.Net that the programme would support and train the next generation of African malaria scientists, in partnership with the University of Copenhagen, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and LSHTM.

Almost £9 million (around US$18 million) has been awarded to the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, to train researchers working with endemic diseases to run clinical trials and strengthen social science research.

Robert Wilkinson, a professor at the University of Cape Town, has received £3 million (around US$6 million) to train tuberculosis researchers, and Uganda will also receive assistance through a project led by Alison Elliot from LSHTM, who will train researchers in immunology.