Not enough money for COVID-19 research in Africa
Scientists who surveyed the state of COVID-19 research in 2020, said there aren’t enough funds available to study aspects like disease transmission between mothers and children, or managing the disease in African communities.
During the initial stages of COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified several research topics that could help scientists understand and control the pandemic.
Scientists in Africa also identified additional research areas of specific interest to the continent. At the time, they knew that the death rate from COVID-19 in Africa was low, but the long-term effects of the disease were still unclear. This meant that research projects tailored to Africa’s specific needs were even more important.
Scientists also didn’t have a clear idea of how well African research projects were aligned with global and local goals, or whether there was enough research funding reaching African countries.
The researchers in this study therefore wanted to find out how many research projects had been funded in Africa. They were also interested in the topics of those research studies, and whether there were any important topics that had been overlooked.
They consulted a database of global COVID-19 research projects that included information up until 15th July 2020. They looked at whether the projects aligned with global research goals and goals specific to Africa, and where the projects took place.
From this list, the researchers narrowed their search down to projects that involved at least one African country. They then analysed which countries were involved, who had funded the research, and how much funding each project had been given.
What the researchers found was that many research projects took place in the same countries, so places like Uganda, Egypt, South Africa and Burkina Faso had multiple research projects, whereas there were 18 countries with no projects whatsoever.
In terms of topic, most of the projects focused on how the virus spreads and infects people, as well as how to help the public understand the pandemic, and how they can help to slow the spread of COVID-19. Another common theme in the research was how to strengthen the ability of researchers in Africa to do their jobs effectively.
These topics all aligned well with WHO research priorities, but the researchers said that some topics of special relevance to Africa received very little attention. These included the role of children in spreading COVID-19, education on COVID-19 risks between mothers and children, how to engage communities in COVID-19 management, and how to encourage international cooperation with African pandemic research.
They also noted that out of the $726 million dedicated to COVID-19 research globally, only $22 million was being used for research in Africa. They added, however, that the database didn’t have funding information for all of the projects happening in Africa, so this amount was an underestimate.
Their findings highlighted the need for more investment into African COVID-19 research, both from global sources and local governments. The researchers also said that more attention should be given to how to strengthen the public health system in Africa, and how to engage families and communities around important COVID-19 issues.
They said these issues should be continuously analysed, especially because the information available at the time of the study was limited. As the pandemic develops, they said, new studies could use their analysis as a baseline to help scientists understand trends in COVID-19 research and funding in Africa.
This study was a collaboration between scientists from Kenya and the United Kingdom, and adds to data that is helping scientists to understand COVID-19 research globally.
Background: Emerging data from Africa indicates remarkably low numbers of reported COVID-19 deaths despite high levels of disease transmission. However, evolution of these trends as the pandemic progresses remains unknown. More certain are the devastating long-term impacts of the pandemic on health and development evident globally. Research tailored to the unique needs of African countries is crucial. UKCDR and GloPID-R have launched a tracker of funded COVID-19 projects mapped to the WHO research priorities and research priorities of Africa and less-resourced countries and published a baseline analysis of a living systematic review (LSR) of these projects.
Methods: In-depth analyses of the baseline LSR for COVID-19 funded research projects in Africa (as of 15th July 2020) to determine the funding landscape and alignment of the projects to research priorities of relevance to Africa.
Results: The limited COVID-19 related research across Africa appears to be supported mainly by international funding, especially from Europe, although with notably limited funding from United States-based funders. At the time of this analysis no research projects funded by an African-based funder were identified in the tracker although there are several active funding calls geared at research in Africa and there may be funding data that has not been made publicly available. Many projects mapped to the WHO research priorities and five particular gaps in research funding were identified, namely: investigating the role of children in COVID-19 transmission; effective modes of community engagement; health systems research; communication of uncertainties surrounding mother-to-child transmission of COVID-19; and identifying ways to promote international cooperation. Capacity strengthening was identified as a dominant theme in funded research project plans.
Conclusions: We found significantly lower funding investments in COVID-19 research in Africa compared to high-income countries, seven months into the pandemic, indicating a paucity of research targeting the research priorities of relevance to Africa.
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