Fund to improve African maternal, child health launched

A mother plays with her young son in the Kenyan village of Mwea
Copyright: Flickr/Gates Foundation

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  • It targets nine African nations with poor maternal and child health indicators
  • It will fund about 20 research teams involving African and Canadian researchers
  • An expert says the fund could help address Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5

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[NAIROBI] The Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI) plans to fund leading African and Canadian researchers to find solutions aimed at improving health systems for mothers and children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Canada-based International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which is running GHRI’s new programme — Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa — launched two calls last month (17 March).
According to the calls for proposals, the new programme is targeting nine countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have high maternal and child deaths: Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan and Tanzania.

“Implementation research teams will link research findings to policy-making in Africa by generating evidence on interventions, policies, programmes and services … to improve health.”

Renée Larocque, The Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI), Canada

Gloria Lihemo, IDRC communication officer based in Nairobi, Kenya, says GHRI has a total funding of 36 million Canadian dollars (almost US$32.3 million) for 2014-2020 but the two calls will fund projects worth US$22.8 million.
The programme willl give two grants each totaling just under US$2.3 million for health policy and research organisations, one in West Africa and the other in East Africa, and 20 implementation research grants each worth a maximum of US$911,000. Each research team will include African and Canadian researchers and African decision-makers, the calls for proposals add.
Renée Larocque, a senior programme officer of GHRI, explains that the primary goal of the funding for health policy and research organisations is to act as catalysts for moving evidence generated by the implementation research team to policy and practice within the Sub-Saharan Africa region, thereby enabling affective connections between research and decision-making.
“Implementation research teams will link research findings to policy-making in Africa by generating evidence on interventions , policies, programmes and services … to improve health,” Larocque notes.
Together with African decision-makers, she adds, researchers will generate locally relevant, practical and affordable innovations, which can then be scaled up to other countries in the region.
Larocque says the programme could also strengthen Canada’s scientific base by creating research opportunities for Canadian scientists, with the potential to produce results that will also benefit Canadians.
Lucy Asamoah-Akuoku, head of research and development at Ghana’s National Blood Service, says the new programme could help save children under five years who die from anaemia partly due to lack of adequate blood.
Asamoah-Akuoku tells SciDev.Net: “Implementation research teams could use the funding to promote voluntary blood donation and establish software to help hospitals know were blood could be accessed”. 
Maurice Bolo, the director of the Scinnovent Centre, a Kenya-based research and training organisation, adds that the programme could accelerate African countries’ efforts in attaining the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, which seek to reduce by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate and reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio, respectively by 2015.
Additional reporting by Bernard Appiah.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.