A scientific symposium reviewed the contributions that EDCTP Networks of Excellence have been making to capacity building in sub-Saharan Africa.
Since 2009, EDCTP has funded four Networks of Excellence:
- Central African Network on Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Malaria (CANTAM).
- East African Consortium for Clinical Research (EACCR).
- West African Network on TB, AIDS and Malaria (WANETAM).
- Trials of Excellence in Southern Africa (TESA).
These Networks of Excellence have played a key role in fostering collaborations between countries, providing a framework for the training and career development of students and early-career researchers, and strengthening the capacity of sites in each network that have a less extensive tradition of clinical research.
The Networks have been supported through three rounds of EDCTP funding, the last of which concludes in 2024. During this time, the number of countries and institutions involved in each Network has expanded considerably. During the scientific symposium, each of the Networks described their main achievements and plans for the future.
A common goal has been to connect researchers with similar interests, for example through disease-specific workstreams or working groups, supporting the sharing of knowledge and experience and development of collaborations. Some Networks have also established shared data platforms to facilitate data sharing and multi-centre studies, including Health Data Research West Africa (www.hdrwa.org).
Networks have used EDCTP funding to organise a wide range of field and clinical studies. These have included epidemiological studies in advance of a trial and small pilot studies. These studies also provide an opportunity for students and early career researchers to gain experience of undertaking and managing research projects.
The Networks have also provided a framework to support large multi-centre studies, including several EDCTP-funded projects as well as those funded by other agencies.
An important role of the Networks has to make connections with sites with less well-developed research infrastructure. Several Networks have worked to improve equipment at such sites and to build human capacity so that they are able to participate in high-quality clinical studies.
Some Networks have also undertaken activities to build ethical review capacities. EACCR, for example, helped to refurbish space for a hospital’s institutional review board. TESA has established regional reference laboratories and its HIV laboratory in Botswana has been designated a WHO Collaborating Centre of Excellence in Drug Resistance.
Training and mentoring
Each of the networks has hosted multiple master’s and PhD students and postdoctoral scientists. In addition, each has been organizing a wide range of training opportunities such as workshops.
Several Networks also provided examples where networks have provided a framework to support the career development of researchers and facilitate academic promotions. Mentoring has also been an important focus for some, particularly EACCR, which has developed a specific mentoring scheme and online platform, which is proving of potential interest to external partners.
Women in science
Each of the Networks successfully bid for additional funding from the UK under the EDCTP umbrella to support PhD training of women researchers. In most programmes, eight female students are now working towards their PhD, although CANTAM has managed to expand this to 11 women.
The Global Health Network (TGHN)
The session concluded with a short presentation on The Global Health Network (TGHN) (https://tghn.org), an online platform that grew out of the Network of Excellence initiative and has worked in close collaboration with each of the Networks. TGHN now offers a wide range of resources to support those with an interest in undertaking clinical research. Additional support in the area of data sharing will be coming soon. TGHN also distributes an online newsletter to nearly 14,000 global subscribers.