In the closing plenary session, Dr Michael Makanga, recently unveiled as the new Executive Director of the Global Health EDCTP3 Joint Undertaking, introduced a distinguished panel of guests and explored opportunities for EDCTP3 to work with a range of stakeholders to advance global health.
Dr Makanga began by giving a brief introduction to the Global Health EDCTP3 Joint Undertaking, which will build on and extend the work of the first two EDCTP programmes. With 15 countries from Europe and 27 from sub-Saharan Africa now part of the EDCTP Association, the Global Health EDCTP3 will maintain its focus on intervention development for the poverty-related diseases of the region, capacity strengthening, and enhancing pandemic prevention, preparedness and response capabilities. With a larger budget and greater scope for external partnerships, Global Health EDCTP3 will also focus on the growing health challenges of climate change, antimicrobial resistance and outbreaks, as well as the interplay between infectious and non-communicable diseases and the delivery of more integrated patient-centred care.
Addressing the issue of future priorities, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Director of the WHO Africa Regional Office, stressed the close bonds established between the two organisations: “We have very much cherished the partnership with EDCTP over the years,” she said. She highlighted the continuing need for new interventions, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, with the original EDCTP targets – malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB – still responsible for a huge burden of disease in the region. There was still much to be done to achieve universal health coverage, she suggested.
She also stressed the importance of focusing on priority groups such as pregnant women and children, and of addressing both neglected infectious diseases and pathogens of epidemic potential. She also made a special plea for community-based partnerships, and implementation science and behavioural science studies: “There is a great deal that is available for further engagement in research, both on the scientific side and on the intervention side, so that we understand the behaviours that are needed in order to leverage these technologies that science is producing.”
Professor John Gyapong, Adjunct Professor of Global Health, Georgetown University, USA, and Chair of the Scientific Committee of the Global Health EDCTP3 Joint Undertaking, Ghana, highlighted the many remaining gaps in knowledge and urgent need for new products to address unmet medical needs. Even with a substantial budget, he argued that Global Health EDCTP3 could not solve every problem and would need to prioritise.
Given the scale of work that needed to be done, he suggested that stakeholders needed to work in partnership to synergise responses and avoid duplication of efforts: “The whole issue of working together is very, very critical,” he concluded.
Providing an industry perspective, Dr Nevena Miletic, Policy Head EMEA, Global Regulatory Policy at F Hoffmann-La Roche and Co- Chair of IFPMA’s African Regulatory Network, Switzerland, highlighted the growing numbers of clinical trials being conducted in Africa: “It’s really amazing to see how far clinical trials in Africa have come,” she suggested. “The growth is amazing, but the potential for further expansion is really vast.”
She noted that patient safety and data integrity were crucial aspects of industry-led trials, requiring international-standard regulatory frameworks. She suggested that industry was keen to establish partnerships to strengthen regulatory capacity in the region, including support for the fledgling African Medicines Agency (AMA). She also highlighted the need to build the capacity of health systems to absorb new medical interventions and innovations: “Ground-breaking advances are really meaningful only when they reach patients who need them,” she pointed out.
Dr Shingai Machingaidze, Senior Science Officer at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), noted that the remit of the Africa CDC was extremely broad. Its strategic plan, published in July 2023, included six programmatic areas and seven enablers. She highlighted a current regional focus on vaccine manufacturing capacity, outbreak response, and capacity for R&D and discovery research in the region. Development of a health research agenda for Africa also offered opportunities for collaboration with EDCTP, she suggested.
Pressed by Dr Makanga to suggest areas where a collaborative approach could be adopted, Dr Matshidiso Moeti noted that partnerships are critical to WHO’s work, including collaborations with researchers, funders and policymakers. She urged researchers to connect more with policymakers and to advocate for greater prioritisation of health and innovation.
Dr Shingai Machingaidze highlighted the research ecosystem that underpins the development, evaluation and implementation of new interventions. She suggested that there was a need for multiple stakeholders to work together to build a pipeline of products addressing the health threats facing Africa, with capacity built at all stages of development. “I think the shift in the thinking of an ecosystem approach is definitely the direction we need to go, because it will allow us all to work better. There are multiple partners and multiple stakeholders, and we need to work better together,” she suggested.
Dr Nevena Miletic reiterated the need to work collaboratively to strengthen the regulatory environment for clinical research and to build the capacity of clinical trial networks. She also stressed the value of coordination and harmonised approaches to regulation.
Finally, Professor John Gyapong called for a holistic approach and coordination across partnerships. No one body could solve every problem, he suggested, and organisations needed to work together to maximise progress. “I think it’s very clear that we need a holistic approach to solving health challenges,” he argued. He also called for efforts to level the playing field so that researchers from more countries could play their part in tackling these health challenges. “Good ideas can come from anywhere,” he suggested.