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Scientists from across sub-Saharan Africa met in Zambia this week (21-28 March) for a workshop aimed at involving them in European Union-funded research projects.

This follows a resolution by the European Union's (EU) 6th Framework Programme to include African scientists and institutions in research funded by Europe.

African scientists have been invited to submit research proposals to receive funding for the US$67 billion 7th European Framework Programme (FP7), which will run from 2007 to 2013 (see Developing nations eligible for European funding).

The EU will also set up an exchange programme between young African scientists and their European counterparts.

An important focus of the FP7 is poverty-related disease such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. An estimated 5 million people die every year from such diseases, mainly in developing countries.

In the past, young African scientists have been unable to participate in European-funded research, as the funds tended to go to established African and Western scientists.

In the light of this, the workshop ― held in Ndola ― offered younger participants training in project proposal development and writing.

The workshop is part of a wider project supporting preparation for the FP7, aimed at ensuring that young African scientists are encouraged, motivated and helped to take on poverty-related disease research — in part by setting up a network of regional information points in sub-Saharan Africa.

Katharina Kuss, EU programme coordinator for the Europe-Southern African Development Community told SciDev.Net that the EU was ready to fund innovative research projects on poverty-related diseases including vaccine and drug development, clinical trials and public health projects.

She says that the EU has realised that African scientists can play a role in research on poverty-related diseases.

Kuss could not specify how much of the US$67 billion will be spent on poverty-related disease research or the exchange programme, but that it would depend on the quality of the project proposals.

Opening the workshop, Zambian health minister Angela Cifire said that research should also cover neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness and bilharzia, which affect marginalised populations.

"My ministry is aware that Zambian researchers, like their counterparts in other parts of Africa, are quite constrained in terms of resources for research," said Cifire.