The opening ceremony of the 2023 EDCTP Forum heard a range of distinguished guests – from Africa and Europe – praise EDCTP for its achievements to date and express their hopes for even greater impact in the future.
The hosts for the opening ceremony, Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah, ANRS Maladies Infectieuses Emergentes and Chair of the Forum Host Country Committee (France), and Ms Irene Norstedt, Director of the People Directorate, DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, began by welcoming all attendees to the Forum – the first mainly in-person Forum since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prof. Yazdanpanah noted that France had been a founder member of EDCTP and had been an ever-present throughout all its 20 years. “EDCTP is clearly a game-changer,” he suggested, noting not just its work in tackling poverty-related infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa but also its strong commitment to capacity building.
Moreover, EDCTP has been committed to partnerships of equals. “EDCTP has done it since the beginning,” said Prof. Yazdanpanah, “which is key for success.”
With more than 1,100 registrants from 62 countries, Prof. Yazdanpanah suggested that the Forum would be a great success, and was evidence of a continuing commitment to address the health challenges of sub-Saharan Africa: “Looking at such a wide assembly here in Paris and online is an encouraging sign that the international community is ready to go on training, researching, building capacities and fostering synergies to improve lives and health.”
Ms Norstedt concurred, remarking that “It is truly a successful endeavour that we embarked on 20 years ago.” She noted the importance of its commitment to equity and to bridging gaps between researchers and policymakers.
She also highlighted how the profound impact of COVID-19: “The pandemic I think has really refocused minds on the need to invest in research on infectious diseases and on international cooperation.”
Describing EDCTP as at a “crossroads” following the launch of the Global Health EDCTP3 Joint Undertaking in 2022, Ms Norstedt congratulated current EDCTP2 Executive Director, Dr Michael Makanga, on his appointment as Executive Director of the Global Health EDCTP3, and thanked Dr Elmar Nimmesgern for his work on establishing the new Joint Undertaking.
The European perspective
Ms Norstedt then introduced her fellow Commissioner, Ms Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, for a video presentation. Ms Ivanova reiterated the European Union’s continuing commitment to partnerships with Africa: “Cooperation between European and African countries in research is crucial for global health and sustainable development. The European Union is committed to fostering our scientific collaboration.”
Ms Ivanova also noted that, as a Joint Undertaking, the new partnership included the European Union as a partner, alongside African and European Member States, and had a significantly increased EU contribution of 800 million euros. This arrangement will also facilitate greater engagement with additional third parties around the world. She also suggested that the programme would form a key part of wider collaborations to build stronger public health institutions and manufacturing capacity in Africa.
As noted by Mr Laurent Muschel, acting Director General of the Health Emergency and Response Authority (HERA), part of the European Commission, this joined-up approach will extend to HERA. Set up two years ago, HERA has a focus on strengthening preparedness and ensuring equitable access to medical countermeasures. “Our global community now needs to act together to avoid being caught off guard again,” Mr Muschel noted. “We deeply believe in the power of collaboration across sectors and across geographic areas.”
HERA is already involved in Africa, for example helping to strengthen laboratory capacity, and a new global consortium for wastewater surveillance is soon to be unveiled. Further substantial investments are due to be made to build regional manufacturing capacity, which will depend on a local clinic trial infrastructure, emphasising the importance of alignment with EDCTP.
Ms Maria da Graça Carvalho, Member of the European Parliament, who was instrumental in the setting up of EDCTP 20 years ago, described EDCTP as a “flagship initiative for global health”. She highlighted some of its key achievements, including new formulations of antiretroviral drugs for children, malaria vaccine projects and rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She also pointed out that, despite these achievements, there was still much to be done: “We have reasons to be proud of what we have achieved. But we need to be ambitious for the future.”