African Researchers Getting a Say in Where Research Dollars Go Thanks to Top Funders

The Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, and the UK Department of International Development (DFID) have contributed a collective $4.5 million to establish the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), which will allow scientists in Africa decide how and where their research dollars from global funders will be spent.

Many African nations, including Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Uganda, are dependent on foreign dollars to fund scientific research. Getting and using the money isn’t necessarily the problem. The larger issue is that research agendas and priorities are set by those foreign donors. This creates even bigger problems—funding in areas of greatest need are often neglected and funding for research doesn’t always land in the countries that need it the most.

The idea behind the newly formed AESA is to allow for better management and direction of African scientific research programs. The AESA initially plans to bring African and non-African funders together to participate in peer review panels and grant management discussions. The long-term goal is for African scientist to take control over those peer reviews and grant management decisions. Another goal: encouraging increased buy-in from African investors and donors.

The Gates Foundation isn’t specifically in the business of funding scientific research. It does, however, direct a huge amount of funding dollars toward research involving specific diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases. 

Related: Behind the Gates Foundation’s Research War Room in the Fight Against Neglected Infectious Diseases

Gates research dollars also find their way to lots of other areas relevant to poor countries, such as developing new sanitation and agricultural technology. 

There’s no word on how much each organization has put up to establish the AESA, and $4.5 million may seem like a pittance when it comes to costs of scientific research, but the establishment of the AESA has the Wellcome Trust pondering a game-changing give.

Wellcome Trust, which is a big funder of diseases and science research—not to mention the fact that it’s the UKs largest NGO source funding biomedical research—is considering handing over the management of its five-year, $60 million Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Initiative, or DELTAS, to the AESA later on this year. DELTAS offers grant money to research that is locally relevant, focusing on sub-Saharan countries.

Related: Burroughs Wellcome Fund: Grants for Disease

According to Wellcome, some suitable areas of research include neglected tropical diseases, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Noncommunicable diseases aren’t out of the question either. The caveat here is that Wellcome will only hand over the reins if the AESA folks in Nairobi can successfully manage the program. To ensure that happens, AESA staff will receive a year of training from the Wellcome Trust.

Science research in Africa has always been a few steps behind the rest of the world, but it's gaining steam with measurable impacts in the areas of health and agriculture in some countries. Allowing research to be directed by the people who know their home country’s pains the best could go a long way toward furthering economic development, and at a faster pace.