The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) has held a virtual launch of its Vaccine Development Research Hubs. This took place on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.
The Vaccine Hubs, which will benefit from initial funding provided by the Open Society Foundation’s (OSF) Africa Regional Office and United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) are expected to work to build capacity and undertake cutting edge research to address the problem of vaccine development within the Africa region. The initiative has the full support of the African Union and Africa Centre for Disease Control.
The launch event was led by Professor Adam Habib, Vice Chancellor of University of the Witwatersrand and co-Chair of the ARUA Board. In his remarks, Prof Adam Habib bemoaned the rise of “Vaccine Nationalism” and the lack of productive capacity in Africa for vaccine development. These were challenges that needed to be addressed urgently by the Africans or risk being recipients of the goodwill of progressives in other parts of the world. He stressed that the purpose of ARUA and efforts aimed at mobilising the agenda for the vaccine Hubs is to ensure that vaccine development research in Africa is collaborative, cross-institutional, trans-national and continental, given that no single university has all the required institutional capacity to achieve the desired results on their own. He added that coming together as African institutions was the only way to compete on an equal basis with the rest of the world. He pledged the support of the Wits flagship program, ALIVE, to the ARUA effort.
In concluding, he noted that the continued brain drain from Africa was deepening the erosion of institutional capacity and that an important way address the challenge was to reimagine higher education in Africa through joint degrees, joint supervision, joint research, teaching and training across institutional, national and continental boundaries.
Speaking on behalf of Africa CDC, Dr Nicaise Ndembi outlined some of the activities of the Africa CDC concerning access to vaccines in Africa. He pledged the support of the African Union and Africa CDC to the effort.
The three research Hubs showcased their existing capacities, current research and their research objectives. Prof Gordon Awandare, Director at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), project lead for the Western African Hub noted that the Hub will focus on work related to genome sequencing, characterising host immune response and the development of serological assays.
Prof Damalie Nakanjako, Dean of the School of Medicine at Makerere University and project lead for the Eastern Africa hub outlined the objectives of the hub to include the determination of antibody quality and quantity production and the sturdiness of innate and adaptive immune response to Covid-19.
Professor Anna-Lise Williamson, SARChi Chair in Vaccinology at University of Cape Town spoke for the Southern Africa Hub and highighted the immense work related to vaccine research being undertaken by member universities in Southern Africa and the kind of support the Southern Africa Hub can lend to the Western and Eastern Africa Hubs.
Other ARUA member universities made short presentations about their interests in the initiative and how they intend to participate in the initiative.
Muthoni Wanyeki, Regional Director of the Open Society Foundations’ Africa Regional Office expressed their excitement at being part of the initiative and pledged their support for the programme given the Foundation’s interest in encouraging Pan-African continental initiatives.
Dr Jacqui Williams, Head of Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Programmes outlined UKRI’s proposed program of support for the Hubs and called for more engagement on what more the GCRF can offer the initiative.
The ARUA Secretary-General, Prof Ernest Aryeetey, noted that each Vaccine Research Hub would be expected to develop a programme for capacity building, reflecting exchanges and collaboration among all participating universities. Those programmes would guide ARUA in its fund-raising efforts. He noted the need for the Hubs to build on the momentum already generated by member universities in Southern Africa as this would be key to ensuring that the outputs would be placed at the disposal of the African people as quickly as possible. He pledged that ARUA would play the role of facilitator to ensure that the resources needed to make the collaborative research effort successful become available. He also pledged to build strong ties with the African Union and the Africa CDC given that their roles now and in the future of Africa would be important for the work of the ARUA Vaccine Research Hubs. The Secretary-General thanked the OSF and the UKRI/GCRF for their support to the initiative.
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