AFRICA: New initiative to strengthen research

The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), based in Kenya, has received a grant of 420 million Kenyan shillings (US$5.65 million) to strengthen research capacity in African universities. The funding under the African Institutions Initiative, from the UK's Wellcome Trust, aims to foster the development of vibrant research hubs at African universities through a collaborative doctoral training model in public health and population studies.

The programme, dubbed the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), is the brainchild of APHRC - an international non-governmental organisation with head offices in Nairobi that conducts policy-relevant research on population, health and education - and the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa.

Executive Director of APHRC, Dr Alex Ezeh, said in a statement that the programme would improve Africa's research capacity and produce highly trained young scientists able to reproduce the training models at their home institutions.

"Research capacity remains very weak in Africa and current programmes and collaborative partnerships in this area in Africa are largely driven by northern academic and research institutions," Ezeh said.

"The Wellcome Trust-funded initiative represents a truly innovative mechanism to position African scholars and institutions as leaders in collaborative efforts to rebuild research capacity in the continent," he added.

Ezeh urged governments to invest more in research to support the generation of credible evidence that informs policies that ensure limited resources available are invested wisely in the region.

APHRC and Wits are spearheading the CARTA initiative, which also involves leading academic and research institutions in East, Central and West Africa as well as the Swiss Tropical Institute, University of Colorado in the US and University of Warwick in the UK.

The CARTA programme goals include building vibrant African research groups able to lead world-class multi-disciplinary research that positively impacts on public and population health.

"CARTA thus aims to get African universities to once more begin to emphasise research and to help them understand the need to provide doctoral students with quality guidance and research skills," Ezeh said.

The initiative will involve joint advanced seminar series to impart skills - such as critical thinking, data analysis, literature reading, writing skills and management - to postgraduate students, aimed at enhancing research.

CARTA is expected to create a practical mechanism for African universities to work together to locally produce highly skilled and networked researchers. At the same time it will create opportunities for often un-reached non-scientific staff of African universities - librarians, financial managers and academic administrators - to interact with each other.

Sir Mark Walpot, Director of the UK philanthropic organisation, observed while announcing the grant that Africa faced some of the world's most serious health problems, stemming from disease and poverty.

"If we are to tackle these problems, we need health research on the continent to develop in a vibrant research environment geared towards national priorities. It is essential that the best and brightest researchers have access to training opportunities and career pathways in their home countries," he said.

Walpot also announced that the Wellcome Trust plans to invest up to £30 million (US$48 million) in such initiatives, which include six other consortia in addition to CARTA, spread across Africa and led by African institutions.