Two-year programme to develop health R&D leaders

student midwife from The School of Midwifery in Masuba
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  • Two-year postdoctoral programme has been launched to benefit health researchers
  • It aims to foster leadership skills of 20 postdoctoral health researchers
  • Africa needs long-term, Africa-led solutions to boost R&D, says an expert

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[NAIROBI] A two-year pilot programme to boost excellence and leadership of African health researchers has been launched.
According to experts, Africa is in need of research and leadership development for emerging health researchers to benefit patients, policymakers and practitioners.
The programme, which was announced last month (14 November), is to be implemented by the Gambia- and UK-based Africa Research Excellence Fund (AREF) with funding from the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Germany.

“In this programme the researchers will receive the support essential to acquire the knowledge and skills for productive, impactful careers and leadership roles.”

Johanna Rapp, Robert Bosch Stiftung

Johanna Rapp, senior project manager, Science and Research, Robert Bosch Stiftung, tells SciDev.Net that science and research systems demand complex capabilities, particularly of early- and mid-career researchers at doctoral and postdoctoral levels.
According to Rapp, excellent science and research needs collaboration, exchange and stronger pan-African networks.
The programme, Rapp explains, fosters leadership skills of institutions and individual researchers. The programme will select 20 postdoctoral fellows from four to six African institutions.
“In this programme the researchers will receive the support essential to acquire the knowledge and skills for productive, impactful careers and leadership roles,” Rapp tells SciDev.Net.
Katrin Rehak, head of the Science and Research Department of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, says that postdoctoral researchers tend to drop out of science and research if they are not successfully applying for grants and winning support, attention and appreciation for their research interests.
“Providing scholarships for postdoctoral research is one necessity. Another is to train them in becoming good managers, good networkers and good leaders,” she explains. “These skills are pivotal in order to make a career in today’s complex science and research systems.”
The Excell programme may have two long-term effects: strategic inclusion of and support for participating institutions to change the research environments in a way that could also benefit postdoctoral researchers will benefit from.

“We hope to grow confident, well-connected and responsible researchers who will successfully apply for research funds and, by that sustain their research careers self-responsibly,” Rehak says.

This will also increase the integration and visibility of excellent African scientists and researchers globally.

According to Peter Dukes, deputy director, AREF, African health researchers typically face uncertain careers and weak engagement with research users. 

“To improve health and save lives, Africa needs to build cadres of experienced, confident and well-resourced postdoctoral researchers who have the potential for leadership,” says Dukes.

But Banjamin Gyampoh, a research manager and scientist at the Kenya-headquartered African Academy of Sciences (AAS), says the initiative is similar to what the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) programme of the AAS is doing. “I encourage synergy between the two programmes,” he says.

Gyampoh adds that early-career, African researchers face barriers such as inadequate long-term funding for sustained research, lack of mentorship programmes and blurred career pathways.

“What is needed are long-term interventions that can make a difference. A two-year fellowship is good but must be one of many with subsequent interventions including enhancing the environment the researchers work in and funds to continue conducting research,” he notes.

He tells SciDev.Net that the barriers are due to African governments’ inaction: “There is very little funding devoted to research and the little that goes into research is usually targeted at short-term ad-hoc fixes that is unable to gather the needed momentum to make lasting impact.”

Africa continues to benefit from external development partners. But institutions such as the AAS leading and driving scientific development need to set the continent’s agenda for research development, Gyampo adds.  

“Africa must decide on what they want to do and seek relevant partnerships to make long-term interventions,” says Gyampo. “These should be Africa-developed, Africa-led, Africa-managed and Africa-delivered. Partnerships should be enablers and not the partners to decide what should be done.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.