April 13, 2015

Research Roundup: research capacity building in Africa, lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak, and top health officials in the United States tell Congress to “think globally”

Kat Kelley
Senior Program Assistant

A new initiative seeks to develop research capacity within Africa and create a regional hub with the ability to determine research needs and award grants. The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) will be launched this June out of the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya, with an initial grant of US$4.5 million from the Wellcome Trust, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Wellcome Trust may also transfer management of its Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science program to AESA, a five-year, $60 million initiative. While AESA will solicit funding from both African and international donors, it will independently manage and allocate grants.

The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa caught the international community off guard; funding for and interest in Ebola was limited, and several promising vaccines for Ebola were suspended in the pipeline. However, an article in the New York Times suggests that we should have been prepared, citing research papers from as early as the 1970s discussing the threat of an Ebola outbreak. The research found the presence of Ebola antibodies in 10 to 26 percent of Liberian citizens, indicating that "medical personnel in Liberian health centers should be aware of the possibility that they may come across active cases [of Ebola.]" According to the authors, “the investigators collected their samples, returned home, and published the startling results in European medical journals.” They argued that inaction is primarily attributable to the lack of engagement of local scientists and officials. The article ultimately calls for investments in local capacity for research, delivery, and care to ensure equity in global health.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, wrote an editorial for Science Magazine on the value of research and development for global health. They expressed concern that certain members of Congress believe that the NIH should shift its focus to match the disease burden in the United States, calling it “unwise” as US investments in global health not only reflect an “enduring tradition of humanitarian concern,” but boost the economy and advance American diplomatic interests.

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