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A UK-based medical charity has called for funding proposals for a new initiative aiming to strengthen research capacity in Africa.

The Wellcome Trust, which funds human and animal health research, aims to transfer skills between research institutes and higher learning centres such as universities — by providing funds to research consortia.

Applications will be considered from consortia made up of various African academic and research bodies — South–South collaboration — and between African universities and research-based institutions operating in a developed economy, establishing North–South links.

Val Snewin, international activities manager for the Wellcome Trust, told SciDev.Net that proposals will not be limited to just health. Proposals can include agriculture, water, development services or any area that impacts on health delivery, she told SciDev.Net.

"If a promising application is outside our area of work, we would help them to find other funders," says Snewin, who added that they have received a lot of interest in the project from other funders.

There are generally two types of institution in African medical research, says Snewin. One type includes universities — their infrastructure is often older and they are run by staff who must lecture and perform multiple other duties, causing research to be squeezed into a small allotment of time.

The second includes modern research institutes which attract international funding and whose sole purpose is to focus on cutting edge research. "We hope this [initiative] will provide an incentive for the research institutes to work to build up [capacity in] the African universities," she says.

Applications have been open since September and close on 14 February 2008. The trust will establish a committee to review the preliminary applications.

Selected applicants will then be invited to submit a full application. Snewin said there might be some financial assistance to cover the cost of meetings to complete the final applications.