New initiative puts research funding for Africa into hands of Africans

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Source: Nature, NEPAD

Source: Nature, NEPAD

For decades, the research agenda in Africa has been set by funders from Western Europe and the United States, but a new initiative puts control of managing Africa-focused research programs into the hands of Africans. The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) aims to be the African hub for peer-reviewing and managing grant programs awarded by funders both inside and outside Africa.

The AESA, which launches in June and will operate out of the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya, is launching with $4.5 million in seed cash from the London-based charity the Wellcome Trust, the UK Department of International Development, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Wellcome Trust may hand over management of its Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Initiative – a five-year $60 million program that will award competitive grants, mainly in health research, with the aim of building up research capacity. The handover is continent on whether the AESA can manage the program to the Wellcome Trust’s own standards, with AESA staff undergoing a year of training.

A Nature article on the AESA quotes Simon Kay, head of international operations the Wellcome Trust, who said the idea is to shift the center of gravity for African funding decisions to the continent. Research funding management done by funders’ head offices in Western countries has “limited the impact of such research, in part because it matches priorities set outside Africa,” Nature notes.

“Funding is in short supply for studying neglected tropical diseases, for example, and funding for HIV research is not always directed at the countries in the greatest need,” Nature author Linda Nordling writes.

AESA hopes to attract African funders to delegate their grant management to the new organization as well as attracting international donors. The Nature article quotes Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for AIDS Program of Research in South Africa who said the initiative “will be stillborn unless African governments put money into it.” African governments would benefit by not having to train their own grant managers and set up research funders nationally.

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