10 September 2015

SA universities share in million-rand research pot

The universities of the Witwatersrand and KwaZulu-Natal are set to share in more than R970 million in grants to address pressing health issues such as HIV, TB and mental health.


Professors from the universities of the Witwatersrand and KwaZulu-Natal are set to share in more than R970 million in research grants announced on Thursday.

These grants will go to fund projects to address some of the continent’s most pressing health issues including HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and mental health.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the UK Department for International Development, the grants were announced in Nairobi at the launch of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA).

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According to Mauritian president and acclaimed biologist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the alliance will help the continent develop African solutions for African problems.

“It’s crucial for us to address the large gap in research capacity that exists between Africa and the rest of the world, ” said Gurib-Fakim at the launch.

According to AESA, Africa accounts for 25 percent of the global burden of disease but only two percent of the worlds research output.

"As a continent we need to mentor the new generation of scientific leaders", said AESA Director Dr. Thomas Karuiki. "We need to foster the creation of centers of excellence around the continent and we need to train, attract and reward African scientists."

Read: South Africans living with HIV still face rejection

University of the Witwatersrand researchers will use about R75 million in grant money to further work in the field of biostatistics. Meanwhile the University of KwaZulu-Natal academics scored big, garnering R156 million in grant money for HIV and TB research.

Grantees from Mali plan to use the money to address the growing threat of drug-resistant malaria.

"Amongst the problems that we face in dealing with malaria is drug resistance,” said Professor Abdoulaye Djimbe from Mali’s University of Science Techniques and Technologies. “The parasite evolves and finds ways of resisting and preventing us from killing it.”

“We need to conduct studies to understand how it becomes resistant to the drugs," he added. "This requires highly trained scientists and sophisticated equipment that is not readily available on the continent."

Malaria kills more than half a million people annually, and nine out of 10 of those deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Also read:

MDR-TB treatment comes closer, but not close enough

How to know if a colleague is mentally ill

Funding crunch affects India's TB fight


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