Africa-EU Research Collaboration on Health: An Assessment of the Outcomes
Africa and Europe have a long history of cooperation in health in general and health research and innovation (R&I) in particular.
The cooperation has grown and deepened in the past three decades or so as a result of regional integration and globalisation of R&I. Bilateral, bi-regional and multilateral cooperation activities on health R&I have increased, as has the productivity of joint Africa-Europe scientific research projects (see illustrative cases below).
African Network for Drug and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI)
ANDI was launched in 2008 with EU funding in the amount of €5 million to promote and sustain African-led health R&I by building capacity, developing infrastructure, promoting collaborative efforts and delivering affordable new tools to fight diseases. Specific activities and investments undertaken by ANDI over the past five years include:
Centres of Excellence: identification and recognition of the first set of 38 pan-African public and private CoEs in health innovation to support implementation of specific R&D and capacity building activities as well as SouthSouth and North-South partnerships.
Projects: identification and initiation of viable projects such as the evaluation and technology transfer of an affordable medical device suite for maternal and child health in Africa, and co-formulation of a combination therapy to treat sickle cell anemia, disease monitoring and surveillance network, diagnostics/medical device networks, and a traditional medicines and natural products network.
European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP phase 1 2003-2013)
EDCTP was established in 2003 as a public-private partnership of a number of European countries, the EU and African countries, to accelerate the development of “new or improved drugs, vaccines, microbicides and diagnostics against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as well as other poverty-related and neglected infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on phase II and III clinical trials”.
Since its establishment EDCTP has supported at least 240 projects totalling about EUR 212 million. The projects focused on an array of activities including the following: + Integrated Projects: clinical trials as the core activity with associated capacity building and networking activities
- Ethics: establishing, strengthening and mapping of national ethics committees and institutional review boards
- Fellowships: personal awards to African researchers, with a focus on Senior Fellowship awards to develop African research leaders and building research teams
- Regional Networks of Excellence: for conducting clinical trials, collaborative support for regional consortia
- Short-term Grants: to provide seed funding for researchers to explore novel and innovative lines of research that may lead to the development and testing of new or improved clinical interventions
(Sources: www.edctp.org; EDCTP (2014), Annual Report 2013. European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership: The Hague.)
But three key issues hamper the progress that has been made.
Weak Policy Instruments and Financial Mechanisms
Africa-EU health R&I cooperation is guided by a range of explicit and implicit policies, expressed in the declarations of AU summits, the AU Africa Health Strategy 2007-2015, the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES), and guidelines of the EU’s Framework Programmes (FP). Even though emphasis is often placed on supporting African countries to achieve health MDGs, most of the initiatives in this landscape aim to realise common policy objectives and focus on shared health challenges between Africa and Europe.
On the whole, EU policy instruments and the JAES have so far delivered tangible outcomes from most of the projects funded through FP6, FP7 (and in particular the FP7 Africa Call) and the ACP S&T Programme. However, these EU investments are not adequately complimented by African resources. Most of the health R&I related policy statements in many AU summit declarations and the AU Africa Health Strategy 2007-2015 remain statements of intent because they are not backed by investments from African governments.
Lack of Opportunities for Private Sector Engagement
The private sector is a major player in Africa-EU health R&I cooperation. Its participation in this cooperation has increased over the past decade. Stimulated by various policy and programmatic initiatives, such as Horizon 2020, we anticipate this growth to continue. However, African private sector participation within the cooperation landscape will be constrained unless African countries design clear strategies for promoting the sector’s engagement in collaborative bi-regional R&I initiatives.
Increased private sector engagement in Africa-EU health R&I cooperation could be achieved if a range of policy issues are addressed. These include developing clear and evidence-based intellectual property protection policies and laws, strengthening the quality of the institutional infrastructure for regulating health R&I in general and clinical trials in particular, and creating fiscal or economic incentives for private companies to invest in health R&I.
Insufficient Policy Uptake
In addition to its use for technological innovation, science is important for and in public policy-making. The EU has placed emphasis on supporting activities that strengthen science-policy linkages, and scientific research projects that have explicit goals of contributing to the improvement of the quality of public policies for health. For example, FP6 and FP7 had several projects on science for policy. The EDCTP for example has explicit goals to use scientific research to directly influence policies and regulations for clinical trials and approval of medicines. ANDI aims, inter alia, at promoting the harmonization of regulations for medicines and drugs approvals.
However, many of the bi-regional health R&I cooperation projects do not have explicit goals of influencing policy and have no strategies for ensuring the uptake of science into policy-making. There are many EU-funded bi-regional health R&I projects that are unknown to policy-makers and where researchers and project managers have no strategies to use science in order to influence policies.
An earlier version of this article first appeared in the CAAST-Net Plus Magazine of June 2015.
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