Wellcome’s huge health research, leadership initiative

The United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust has announced a five-year, £40 million (US$65.8 million) fund to strengthen scientific research training and build the careers of talented young health researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science – DELTAS – initiative is to support the African-led development of world-class researchers and research leaders.

The initiative is open to universities and research institutes that want to set up programmes to train young Sub-Saharan African researchers, from masters and PhD to postdoctoral scientists. Preliminary proposals will close on 2 October.

DELTAS Africa will focus on developing scientific excellence that promotes research leadership and capacity, including through well-resourced and structured training, said Sophie Mathewson, international activities adviser for the Wellcome Trust.

“The initiative builds on previous Wellcome Trust programmes in Africa, which have brought together scientists from the east and west of the continent, developed career structures for young researchers and enhanced research capacity,” Mathewson told University World News.

She said DELTAS Africa was looking for programmes from African universities and institutes that were in line with four main objectives: to produce world-class research that addresses African health and research priorities through scientific discourse and collaborative supervision; to strengthen training and build career pathways for researchers; to foster mentorship, leadership and equitable collaboration in science, and engagement with stakeholders; and to cultivate professional environments to manage and support research.

In terms of scientific content, the initiative will support areas of science that have potential to improve the health of people and livestock and tackle priorities relevant to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Other scientific areas may be considered where complementary to health research – multidisciplinary programmes are welcomed – and where applications demonstrate appropriate knowledge and expertise, she added.

Mathewson said the initial £40 million would cater for the entire call. “There are no fixed limits on the amount that can be requested by individual applicants, but all costs must be reasonable and justified and will be awarded at the trust’s discretion,” she said. Joint applications from scientists within and outside Africa to the initiative are also welcome.

DELTAS Africa aims to move the funding and management of the initiative to an African institution over time. “This shift is a new and crucial element in the long-term strategy of the initiative, which also aims to enhance collaboration with other funders to coordinate activities and support for African research,” says the trust.

Wellcome Trust previously used different models to train African researchers. These focused on developing talented individual researchers and strengthening institutional and national research environments. The new initiative builds on this to strengthen and sustain capacity development.

Mathewson said the proposals most likely to be funded would support research leaders in Africa with the capacity to conduct, publish and lead locally relevant and high quality research that would have an impact on health science, policy and practice in Africa.

“The strongest proposals will be focused on scientific excellence, be highly competitive and be able to demonstrate strong collaborations between institutional partners within Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as collaborations with institutional partners outside Sub-Saharan Africa who are able to contribute additional skills, high quality supervision and mentorship.”

Research areas may include: emerging and endemic infections; persistent threats such as neglected tropical diseases, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria; the growing challenge of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and mental health; and regional public health challenges.

DELTAS Africa is aligned to international principles for strengthening research capacity in low- and middle-income countries, as identified by Enhancing Support for Strengthening the Effectiveness of National Capacity Efforts on Health Research – an initiative to improve the coordination of research capacity investments by international funders.