SAMSS Newsletter, February 28, 2011
The importance of health research capacity in Africa has been receiving increasing attention over the last few years. Research plays a critical role in elevating African countries’ self-sufficiency in meeting the health needs of their populations. The Initiative to Strengthen Health Research Capacity in Africa (ISHReCA) is an African-led organization created in 2007 with the vision to reduce the burden of disease and improve health on the continent through research. ISHReCA provides a platform for African scientists to discuss needs and models to build sustainable capacity for health research in Africa while promoting an African-led agenda for capacity building. The organization also advocates for increased commitment of national governments towards building local capacity to conduct research.
In July 2009, the Wellcome Trust as part of the African Institutions Initiative created the following seven international consortia to develop institutional capacity to support and conduct health-related research in Africa: the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA); One Health Initiative - African Research Consortium for Ecosystem and Population Health; the One Medicine Africa-UK Research Capacity Development Partnership Programme for Infectious Diseases in Southern Africa (SACIDS consortium); Research Institute for Infectious Diseases of Poverty (IIDP); Southern Africa Consortium for Research Excellence (SACORE); Strengthening research capacity in environmental health (SNOWS); and Training Health Researchers into Vocational Excellence in East Africa (THRiVE). Each initiative led by an African institution addresses varying topics such as leadership training and professional development; PhD and postdoctoral fellowships; improved infrastructure; competitive grant schemes; and the provision of up-to-date equipment.
The Division of International Training and Research (DITR) at the Fogarty International Center supports health research capacity in Africa through research and training grants as well as fellowship opportunities. Fogarty’s Research Grants provide funding to researchers in low- and middle-income countries to perform research in varying topics, such as mental illness, infectious diseases and tobacco cessation. Fogarty’s Research Training Grants provide funding to train researchers to strengthen and create a sustainable research capacity in low- and middle-income countries in a variety of research areas, such as infectious and chronic diseases, population health, informatics, genetics, and clinical services. Initiatives such as Fogarty’s and others highlighted above are critical to raise regional and international awareness of the need to network and build health research capacity in Africa.
In “Improving Implementation: Building Research Capacity in Maternal, Neonatal, and Child Health in Africa”, Whitworth et al explore how African countries can strengthen their health systems while increasing their capacity to conduct research to improve the health of mothers, newborns and children. The authors argue the first step toward improved outcomes should be involving those grappling with issues “on the ground”. Initiatives should be developed which incorporate the views of African scientists, policy makers, and civil society. The article highlights the following nine requirements identified by ISHReCA to strengthen health research capacity in Africa. These requirements are focused around the need to improve the research environment, and to support both individuals and institutions.
Improve the research environment
- By ensuring a legal framework in which research can flourish
- By raising the profile of science and health research with policy makers, the media, and local populations
- By promoting secondary-school and tertiary-school science education
- By creating career pathways, developing critical mass, and recruiting and retaining talented scientists
- By supporting senior scientists to act as research leaders and role models
- By developing competitive grant and fellowship schemes administered by African institutions
- By providing institutional support for infrastructure, management, and technical services, and strategic development planning
- By promoting networks and partnerships, especially between African institutions
- By using funding mechanisms as drivers of change at African institutions
In “Strengthening capacity for health research in Africa”, Whitworth et al explores the current initiatives that have significantly contributed to capacity strengthening of health research in Africa. The authors argue that serious challenges remain in Africa to develop a common framework for sustainable research capacity strengthening. Government commitments are essential to provide strategic planning, legislative reforms, and funding for effective management of research activities. The authors emphasize the importance of developing attractive research-focused career pathways within African institutions in order to retain good researchers within the region.
In “Capacity development for health research in Africa: experiences managing the African Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship Program”, Kabiru et al explored a new program which supports PhD research in health and population sciences at African universities: the African Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship (ADDRF) program. The ADDRF program was created in 2008 to facilitate rigorous research addressing health issues in Africa and to further enhance the quality of doctoral dissertation research in order to equip doctoral students with essential research skills. The program will have a significant impact in enhancing high-quality research outputs in the region.
Francis Omaswa, MBCHB, MMed, FRCS, FCS
Executive Director, African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation
Co-Chair, SAMSS Advisory Committee
Fitzhugh Mullan, MD
The George Washington University
Principal Investigator, SAMSS