The African Academy of Sciences and the NEPAD Agency’s Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) has committed $7-million to fund innovative ideas and research through the Grand Challenges Africa programme to accelerate scientific breakthroughs that will improve Africa’s health and developmental outcomes.
AESA has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide the Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Grants, which focus on finding local solutions to solve Africa’s pressing challenges and help the continent to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Grants will run for the next five years and comprise of the Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Seed Grants (GCA-ISG) and provide funding for scaling up innovations.
“Solutions for Africa’s challenges do exist within the continent. As an African grantmaking body, we are laser focused on tapping the best minds on the continent to develop innovative local solutions to our health and development challenges,” says Dr Tom Kariuki, AESA’s director.
The Grand Challenges Africa Grants will solicit ideas that can be developed into ground breaking research and innovations by providing up to US$100,000 in Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Seed Grants (GCA-ISG) for two years to each of the up to 40 projects that will be funded over the five-years that the scheme will run.
The GC Africa Grants will fund innovators resident in Africa with any level of experience, working in any discipline in colleges, universities, government laboratories, research institutions, non-governmental and non-profit organisations.
Innovations which receive the $100 000 seed grants and show promise for scaling up will be eligible to apply for additional funding of up to $1-million.
AESA’s Grand Challenges Africa programme is part of global Grand Challenges, a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key health and development problems.
The first call for proposals is focused on innovators seeking solutions and strategies to help Africa meet the SDG 3 target for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH). These cover key areas of:
* New technologies to enable rapid identification of exposures that lead to poor outcomes in pregnancy, birth and in the first month of life – these could be exposures to communicable and non-communicable.
* Precision medicine approaches and techniques to identify microbes and other exposures in Africa that may increase susceptibility to non-communicable diseases (cancer, cardiovascular diseases, etc) in mothers and children under five years of age.
It is also open to creative approaches to engage the public, and inspire policy and decision makers to increase investment in African R&D.
“While great strides have been made in reducing mortality in Africa, maternal and neonatal mortality rates remain unacceptably high. We are seeking bold new ideas with potential for enormous impact in Africa, so that mothers and children not only survive, but thrive,” Dr Kariuki says.
Estimates show that more than half the global maternal deaths and more than three-quarters of neonatal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa with more than half of maternal deaths directly or indirectly attributed to infectious causes such as HIV, malaria in pregnancy, sepsis and sexually transmitted diseases. Infections and complications related to preterm births also account for 88 % of newborn deaths.
The new grant also aims to complement existing global efforts and ignite more African funding for R&D to fast track scientific breakthroughs for reducing Africa’s disease burden, by funding revolutionary approaches that will lead to African organisations and governments committing more funding to catalyse R&D and innovation. In 2007, the African Union Heads of States set a target for countries to allocate 1% of their GDP to R&D by 2010 but to date very few African governments have increased their funding for R&D and only a handful are approaching the 1% target.
“We also hope to motivate and mobilise government support and increased investment for R&D to ensure the sustained development and commercialisation of novel solutions to transform the future for a huge part of our population,” says Dr Evelyn Gitau, programme manager of Grand Challenges Africa. “Africa has a wealth of talented innovators who can provide solutions when empowered and adequately funded.”
The funding will also promote intra-African collaboration and promote the sharing of skills and ideas within grand challenges projects. A partnership with Institute Pasteur will also enable AESA to fund additional projects that promote intra-African collaboration.
AESA has established an open, merit based and blind review selection process, where the names and institutions of applications will be hidden from the peer review committee of scientific experts to ensure that the process is fully transparent.