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African centres of excellence in drug R&D identified

The African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI) listed 32 institutions as centres of excellence in health research on 31 October. This issue of Research Africa looks at the distribution of the centres across the continent and how they are chosen.

The centres, presented in more detail later in this bulletin, were chosen from 117 applications. They have received a certificate from ANDI identifying them as having expertise in specific areas of health research that include drug development, HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Getting a certificate is “the same as winning a Grammy”, according to Solomon Nwaka, acting director for ANDI.

The centres needed to meet criteria that included sustainable funding and postgraduate qualifications among staff. Some of the 85 that failed to qualify as centres of excellence had not followed instructions, Nwaka said.

“They were required to provide [details of] funding for the last three years but some left that column blank. The head of the institutions did not sign some of the applications as required. That immediately disqualified them,” he said. Some institutions were disqualified because staff members did not have a publication record.

The initiative was born from the realisation that Africa had no systematic way of identifying centres of excellence, said Nwaka.

“There are some institutions that have in the past been identified as centres of excellence and got good grants without following a review,” he said.

Recognising the 32 as centres of excellence could help them leverage international funding for research, he added.

“They will get much more visibility and much more competitive in terms of applying for resources,” he said. Some donors are already enquiring about the institutions, he added.

Nwaka expressed the hope that the initiative would encourage African governments to fund research: “Through this we hope that African policymakers can begin to ask why there are no centres of excellence in their countries and take necessary corrective steps.”

The centres will also be involved in ANDI research projects to be rolled out in 2012. ANDI will fund the projects but plans to approach donors for additional finance. Projects will include research on sickle cell anaemia and other diseases.

The centres will be re-assessed after five years to ensure they maintain high standards.

Regional stories about the centres can be found elsewhere in this bulletin.