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[NAIROBI] A COVID-19 coalition launched to fast-track clinical research and development (R&D) in low-resource countries could help Africa find local solutions to the pandemic, experts say.

Monique Wasunna, Africa regional director at Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, says that the coalition will accelerate research for effective COVID-19 drugs, pre-exposure actions to protect health care workers and vulnerable groups, and post-exposure care for those infected.

According to a study, many global health partnerships and coalitions between investigators from Africa and the developed world are imbalanced with African scientists having limited opportunities to make intellectual contributions to the process.

“Global health research also depends on strong clinical, laboratory and human resource infrastructure. While such resources exist in the West, they are scarce in Africa and limit contributions of African researchers,” the study says.

“Coalition members are beginning to work through a series of expertise-specific working groups to identify solutions.”

Monique Wasunna, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative

But on the COVID-19 coalition Monique tells SciDev.Net: “Local experts will be part of international plans to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new diagnostic tools, drugs, vaccines, and non-medical interventions to prevent, diagnose, and treat COVID-19”.

It will also promote new clinical research, including, ensuring standardised research protocols and to aim at developing vaccines and other medicines for Africa, says Wasuna whose organisation is a member of the coalition.  

Launched this month (2 April), the coalition is made up of health experts, policymakers and others from institutions such as ministries of health, universities, not-for-profit development R&D organisations, donor agencies and international organisations.
 
Most COVID-19 clinical trials are being conducted or planned in China and South Korea and high-income countries in Europe and North America with only few trials being planned in regions such as Africa, and Central and South America, says a commentary published in the Lancet this month.
 
The article calls for support for low- and- middle-income countries to boost their capacity to undertake COVID-related trials to help identify solutions that are specific to their needs.

“Strong funding, political support, effective collaboration, adequate expertise and [other] resources, and informed guidance will be needed to ensure access of new tools and strategies,” says Wasunna.

“Coalition members are beginning to work through a series of expertise-specific working groups to identify solutions to the major obstacles to rapidly move ahead with new clinical research,” she adds.
 
Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, a member of the coalition, tells SciDev.Net that the involvement of research institutions and national public health institutes from Sub-Saharan Africa in the coalition means that the region can contribute strongly to solutions such as vaccines and other medicines  and how they  can be used in the African context.
 
According to the World Health Organization, of the nearly two million COVID-19 cases and 152,707deaths worldwide confirmed as of yesterday (19 April), Africa had 13,892 cases and 658 deaths.
 
“Across the world, people are anxious at the rising numbers [of cases and deaths] and absence of vaccines and therapeutics [medicines] for COVID-19,” says Ihekweazu.
 
Members of the African institutions that form part of the COVID-19 clinical research coalition include Ethiopia-based Addis Ababa University, Ghana Health Service, South African Medical Research Council, Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania and Makerere University in Uganda. By being part of this coalition, Sub-Saharan Africa is showing its commitment to working together and advocating for equitable and affordable access to interventions, explains Ihekweazu.
 
Wasunna tells SciDev.Net that sharing clinical trials data will help African policymakers to get the information they need as quickly as possible in individual countries and across the region.  
 
Evidence generated from the process will be rapidly made available to policy makers so that they can make evidence-based decisions and guidelines for their populations, explains Wasuna.

“Coalition members will shortly start using new communication platforms to connect with one another and find any particular expertise they are looking for, partners for research, and answers to outstanding questions,” says Wasunna, adding that  activities of the coalition are still being determined.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.
 

References

COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition Global coalition to accelerate COVID-19 clinical research in resource-limited settings (Lancet, 2 April 2020)