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African population health research network takes shape

Image: smartboy10, via Getty Images

Initiative seeks to link studies tracking health of millions of Africans over their lifetime

An initiative to link up studies tracking the health of millions of Africans to better understand and address the continent’s health challenges is taking shape.

Next week, researchers will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, to launch the blueprint of the African Population Cohort Consortium. The APCC aims to link up health study cohorts to enable research across the demographic diversity of Africa. 

“Researchers could not do this type of work at scale and across the diversity Africa is offering before,” says Kobus Herbst, director of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network and one of the initiative’s architects.

Joined-up thinking

Herbst and colleagues have been planning the APCC ever since a 2020 meeting in Uganda saw African scientists and research funders agree on the need for a continental population data research platform.

Africa is home to several dozen health studies that follow large numbers of people over long periods, but they are often limited in their scope. Some focus on a specific geographical area, while others monitor specific health challenges such as cardiovascular disease, mother and child health or HIV/Aids.

The APCC’s aim is to unite more than 80 such cohorts, giving research projects access to lifelong health data gathered from millions of Africans in dozens of countries. It will also strengthen participating demographic survey projects and harmonise data collection to make it easier to combine and share data. 

The APCC plans three research programmes. The first will study the factors that determine health and disease across different life stages and generations across Africa; the second will focus on the impact of climate change on health; and the third will leverage population health studies to improve healthcare systems.

Since the programmes will collect biological samples, the consortium will create a biobank network to assist with processing and data sharing.

Funding need

The planning stage of the APCC has been backed by the Wellcome Trust, a UK-based biomedical research charity, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government. The initiative still needs to secure long-term funding.

At least 10 funders will attend next week’s conference, which will take place on 27 and 28 May.