Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net
While many biomedical studies are held in Sub-Saharan Africa, its researchers complain of low levels of engagement of such studies even if they are tagged as ‘collaborative’.
Usually, African researchers are not fully engaged and are given limited leadership roles, but this is due to many factors including lack of capacity, no equipment, limited specialized laboratories, no mentorship and a few experienced personnel.
Most of them also lack the skills and international competitiveness for larger research grants.
It is frustrating even for us African journalists, when you see and know that a study has been concluded in your community, but you cannot get an interview with local scientists because the principal investigator is based out of Africa.
Yes, there are rules to this game, but it is also obvious that African scientists need more training, which will enable them build their own research teams and attract major research grants. On the same track, African governments need to invest more money into research.
The European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) programme runs a highly successful Senior Fellowship scheme aimed at developing African scientific leadership and mentorship.
In this model, the EDCTP senior fellows get grants and build research teams made up of students. They integrate training and supervision of these students at Masters, post-doc and PhD levels in their projects.
Some senior fellows with their students have been remarkably successful, like Mark Nicol from South Africa whose study results contributed to a report submitted to the World Health Organisation that led to the recommendation of Xpert MTB/RIF as a replacement for smear microscopy as the first line diagnostic test for tuberculosis in areas with high prevalence of MDR-TB or HIV in 2010.
Another is Stephen B. Kennedy, researcher from UL-PIRE Africa Center, University of Liberia, who led a project that trained a cadre of researchers in HIV/AIDS research and it laid the foundation for HIV biomedical research in Liberia.
From 2004, when the Senior Fellowship scheme was introduced, 45 senior fellowships have been granted by EDCTP to scientists from various African countries. Eighteen of these have completed their projects and all of them are still working in the research field in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In May 2012, the EDCTP General Assembly approved an additional six Senior Fellowships. We hope more collaborative researches that take on such a model to develop the research capacity in Africa. We shall hear more about this at the upcoming EDCTP in Cape Town on 5–6 November. Watch this space for proceedings form the Cape Town International Convention Centre.