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African scientists identify coronavirus priorities

Image: GovernmentZA [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Life-saving interventions for resource-strained health settings trump basic biology research

Hundreds of African scientists have contributed to a prioritised list of coronavirus research for the continent published by the African Academy of Sciences on 28 April. 

The list shows that African scientists prioritise research that saves lives in resource-strained health settings over projects to answer basic biology questions about the new coronavirus.

The list draws on a survey of 844 researchers, with nine out of ten based in Africa. More than half hold postdoctoral positions or higher, and they reflect a “broad spectrum” of researchers in Africa, the AAS says.

Survey respondents were asked to rate 41 Covid-19 research priorities determined by the World Health Organization from 5 to 1, with 5 an ‘absolute priority’ and 1 a ‘low priority’.

They were also asked to rate a further 17 priorities that had arisen during an AAS-run webinar on Covid-19. These were priorities deemed of special interest to Africa. 

It was one of these non-WHO priorities that received the highest score by respondents in the survey: Nine out of ten gave ‘Develop protocols for the management of severe disease in the absence of intensive care facilities’ either ‘top’ or ‘high’ priority. 

Some of the lowest-rated priorities concerned understanding the origins of the virus, and identifying animal models for research. 

Other high-rated priorities include understanding the effectiveness of control strategies to prevent transmission in clinics and communities, and the search for cheap, fast and easy to use field-adapted diagnostic tools. 

The prioritised list is likely to influence funding for Covid-19 research being leveraged by the AAS. However, the priorities are also subject to change as the pandemic matures as African scientists build their experience with the virus, the AAS said.