A Bird’s Eye View of EU-Africa Health Research Cooperation
A wide range of health issues are experienced across the diverse populations of Africa and Europe. These issues include, among many others, conditions associated with mental illness and ageing, to the range of infectious, parasitic and viral diseases. Both regions need viable solutions to these shared challenges (below).
Some Common Health Challenges Facing Africa and Europe
- Metabolic diseases
- Neglected diseases
- Maternal and child health
- Infectious, parasitic and viral diseases
- Mental disorder-related health challenges
- Age-related emerging diseases
As such, policy-makers from Europe and Africa have continued to emphasise health as an area for cooperation (Kalua et al, 2009; EU Council, 2010). Significantly, within the context of the joint Africa-EU strategic partnership, the important role of science, technology and innovation in addressing the shared priorities of the two regions was emphasised by heads of state and government in their declaration from April’s fourth EU-Africa summit (see www.africa-eu-partnership.org).
In recent years, there have been a plethora of investments in bi-regional scientific and technological cooperation activities to address areas of common interest within health. These investments have been made at different levels across the cooperation spectrum (Table 1). So what might we learn from these efforts that will help us to further improve our cooperation?
Table: Health research cooperation programmes and funding mechanisms
|Cooperation level||Examples of funding instruments/organisations supporting research|
The overall objectives guiding our analysis are threefold. First, we have set out to review the outcomes and, where possible, the impacts of an initial sample of of 154 projects. Second, we aim to identify systemic weaknesses within the cooperative processes involved in implementing these initiatives. Third, we hope to propose corrective strategies from the results arising from our analysis.
Table: Focus areas of projects surveyed
|Main activities||Number of projects engaged in this activity|
|Human capacity building||38|
|Enhancing collaborative networks||20|
|Policy or framework conditions||40|
Our investigation is currently focused on available data from both completed and ongoing projects for the period 2006-2014. Projects were typically funded by the European Union’s sixth and seventh framework programmes, as well as the ACP secretariat. Methodologically, we have used web-based desktop research and analysis, questionnaires, and key informant interviews with project coordinators from some of the projects in our sample.
Our early analysis of the data collected has revealed at least two major areas of systemic weakness that are shaping the cooperation taking place. We discuss these areas briefly below.
1. Low Level of Private Sector Engagement
A total of only 49 private sector entities were involved in the sample of over 150 projects reviewed. The nature of companies ranges from traditional pharmaceuticals, biotech companies, and SMEs, among others.
The regional or geographical distribution of these private project participants is reported as follows: Europe (42%), Africa (22%), and Other Regions (14%).
The highest rate of European country private sector participation originated from France, Germany, UK, Italy and Switzerland (in that order respectively).
With respect to Africa, the dominance participation was from South Africa and a low level of participation from several other African countries (Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia). No projects surveyed had a specific emphasis on commercialisation.
2. Plethora of Cooperation Challenges
Our research has so far revealed a large number of barriers to cooperation. These range from policy issues (funding and co-ownership, ethics) to infrastructural concerns, and are discussed very briefly below.
- Funding and co-ownership — Many African governments have failed in their ability, and in their willingness, to co-fund health cooperation activities. It has also been difficult for project participants to acquire advance funding for EU-driven projects from national sources.
- Duplication — A number of respondents reported that the same types of projects in similar areas had been funded by different donors in an uncoordinated fashion.
- Ethics — Delays were reported in some consortium partners getting research ethics approval from their national governments for their projects. Ethics boards in some countries do not exist, which can delay or derail research where this type of approval is needed.
- Project and partner management — Key issues related to project and partner management include the development of trust, language barriers among partners from different traditions, misunderstanding of project objectives, conflicts of interest, and a lack of interest among some partners after project initiation.
- Human capacity — Respondents reported an inadequate skills base, within projects, which disabled implementation of the assigned project activities.
- Research infrastructures — Respondents reported a lack of appropriate technologies and research infrastructures to implement health research and innovation development projects and programmes.
- Political — Political unrest in some countries led to the scientist and/or health expert resignation or migration, resulting in discontinuity in project memory as well as data loss.
- Uptake — It was reported to have been challenging to involve and engage national authorities, as well as civil society organisations, in the uptake or adoption of the project outcomes.
- Community engagement — Difficulties were experienced in mobilising communities to participate in health policy data generation projects. Acquiring samples and clinical evidence from different affected population groups was also challenging.
- FP7 financial challenges — Some partner organisations had particular difficulties understanding the pre-financing and re-imbursement procedures associated within FP7 grantmaking.
Our work on completing this research continues apace and we hope to be able share the results in full before the end of 2014. At the same time we are developing three action clusters as a way of addressing the issues that are emerging through our research.
First, we plan to consult with health and policy experts, within Africa and Europe, to identify ways to address some of the barriers identified through our research report.
Second, we seek to identify future niches for private sector engagement, starting with a CAAST-Net Plus-led panel discussion to take place at the Seventh EDCTP Forum in Berlin this July.
Third, based on our consultation we plan to deliver a series of recommendations to key stakeholders — the EU, AU, development aid actors, and private sector policy makers — on new potential areas of intervention.
To share your thoughts with us about this research, please write to Dr Eric Mwangi of Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Kalua, F.A., Awotedu, A., Kamwanja, L.A. and J.D.K. Saka (eds), 2009. Science, Technology and Innovation for Public Health in Africa. Pretoria: NEPAD Office of Science and Technology.
European Union Council, 2010. Council of the European Union 3011th Foreign Affairs Council Meeting: Conclusions on the EU Role in Global Health. Available from: http://www.eu-un.europa.eu/articles/en/article_9727_en.htm. [26 June 2014]
*This article first appeared in the CAAST-Net Plus Magazine of June 2014.
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Disclaimer: CAAST-Net Plus is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n0 311806. This document reflects only the authors’ views and the European Union cannot be held liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.