Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net
Throughout the High Level conference on the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership-II (EDCTP2), capacity building for African researchers was a recurrent theme
It was more on increasing and elevating research done in Africa, by African researchers; building their leadership capacity to form their own teams and networks in collaboration with EDCTP.
So, I sought to find out the difference, if at all, between capacity building for African researchers from funding clinical trials by the Americans and Europeans.
Most of the African researchers I spoke to at the EDCTP2 conference in Cape Town, who receive funding from both Americans and Europeans confirmed real capacity building and networking from EDCTP funded activities.
It is, in fact, an integrated part of the EDCTP with short and long term training, building African researchers careers as well as infrastructure development. This is guaranteed and reflected in funding rules for grants and in their governance.
But they described the American funded clinical trials in Africa as Federal Express Research- shipping out human samples and not caring to build capacity among African researchers.
“I was one of the pioneers of EDCTP and we formed it to build capacity of African researchers, which is really happening compared to other collaborations. It is a reality in Africa,” said Professor Lynn Sodai Zijenah, the chairman, Department of Immunology, University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences.
“I am conducting three clinical trials in the fields of HIV and Tuberculosis. I will be making the preliminary results to the Ministry of Health to change policy,” said Zijenah.
Under EDCTP, I am looked at as a partner not like a third world scientist who does not know anything or pretend they are not on the ground, said another researcher.
Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science said EDCTP is a beacon of hope for many people in Africa and a unique powerful partnership. She also described it as and an excellent example of what we can be achieved between Africa and Europe when they work together.
During the first phase of EDCTP (2003-2011) more than 200 African scientists and medical doctors got professional training, research careers were built, many students graduated with Masters and PhD degrees.
At the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Groote Schuur Hospital, Prof. Keertan Dheda a senior research fellow is working on Tuberculosis diagnosis in high burden settings.
Dheda is a typical example of a fellow who got an EDCTP fellowship was trained and is now leading a research team, collaborating with other African countries and winning bigger grants.
The first African Regional Networks of Excellence for clinical trials was also launched and a true partnership between Europe and Africa developed with over 70 per cent of all EDCTP-funded activities led by African researchers.
The vision of EDCTP2 (2014-2024) is to support 50 new clinical trials- focusing on larger and more costly phase III trials, strengthen Africa’s capacities for clinical research and train 250 African researchers and doctors.
African researchers said usually the Americans say they do not have enough funds, thus the shipment of specimens, but it is equally expensive and tedious to transport them.
Americans develop protocols and then identify their partners in Africa, researchers, whose only job is to collect specimens and data and ship them.
But African researchers still continue to partner with Americans in research even without building much capacity. Why?
“The research we do with Americans is usually not our priority but we are beggars and most of us are looking at getting promotions,” said a researcher from Zambia who preferred anonymity.