Building Health Research Capacity in East Africa: Strengthening Equity and Global Collaboration

Ian MatthewsNews

By Moses Mulimira & GBCHealth

This event, hosted by the BMJ on 26 April, came at an important inflection point in health research in Africa. With increasing emphasis on the urgent need to ‘decolonize global health’, there is a call to upend a model that has typically omitted African institutions from research leadership roles, ignoring the value of their lived experience and close proximity to policy-makers.

In a recent open letter to international funders of science and development in Africa, published in Nature Medicine, the authors called for a dismantling of the architecture which puts the delivery of programs and health research directly in the hands of western organizations. The authors advocate for decisions about major funding to be made in consultation with in-country scientists and researchers, alongside Ministries of Health, and to emphasize national priority research efforts. 

Initiatives like the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science and the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Information for Malaria, featured at the event, are already shifting the center of gravity by ensuring funding is provided directly to African scientists and institutions. These initiatives are shaping their own research agenda and conducting research relevant to the continent. But these initiatives are exceptions; more needs to be done to bring about significant change.

The event aimed to address this challenge, to explore barriers to African-led research, and consider opportunities to chart a way forward to democratize the process of research and capacity-building in the East African region. 

Speakers included representatives of the governments of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, leaders from academia and research institutes, as well as funding and publishing organizations. GBCHealth was a partner for the event alongside Wellcome Trust, NHS Health Education England and others. Lesley-Anne Long, GBCHealth President & CEO, chaired a session on the enabling environment for health research capacity-building. 

Key themes from the event 

  • East Africa Health Research: an overview, the potential, and why this matters – representatives from the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda reiterated the importance of clinical and global health research, both to reduce morbidity and mortality, as well as to achieve socio-economic transformation in Africa. 
  • Enabling environment for health research capacity-building – Lesley-Anne chaired a discussion with representatives from Wellcome Trust, the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the BMJ who each provided an overview of current efforts to build research capacity and resilience, and to support research programs and publishing in African countries. 
  • Existing efforts: showcasing and ideas for building research and capacities in East Africa – speakers reiterated some of the operational challenges faced by researchers in the region, showcased examples of innovative research efforts, and highlighted opportunities for action. 
Event partners

Event outcomes 

Further awareness-raising across the wider research community to foster strategic thinking for aligned actions in support of research in East Africa is vital. Three recommendations emerged during the event: 

  • Increase participation of East African researchers in setting research agendas and priorities, which benefit the East African Region and impact their policy; 
  • Advocate for and catalyze government funding around infrastructure to create a supporting and enabling environment for building local/regional capacities to lead global research; and 
  • Foster international and regional research collaborations and partnerships based on principles of trust and equity, particularly in relation to data ownership and publishing. 

Uganda-UK Health Alliance

The Uganda-UK Health Alliance (UUKHA) is an umbrella organization for U.K. institutions undertaking healthcare capacity-building in Uganda. The Alliance provides a platform to support and better coordinate U.K.-derived programs in the health sector and ensure that they map to the priorities of the Ugandan Ministry of Health. The UUKHA supports member institutions to maximize their impact by fostering mutual collaboration, shared learning and alignment to local needs.

Organizing events, such as the one on 26 April, supports the Alliance’s goal to foster mutual collaboration, shared learning and sustainability between the Uganda and U.K. health sectors. GBCHealth and the UUKHA also supported and participated in a related event on 27 April, the UK-East Africa Alliance for Global Health: Support Practices and Implications of the Global Health Alliance Programme which featured dialogue and discussion on wide-ranging issues, trends and growth opportunities that are reshaping East African healthcare sector.

GBCHealth will continue to work with the UUKHA on future events.

Moses Mulimira is a Global Health Consultant with Health Education England, and the UK Lead for the Uganda-UK Health Alliance

Ian MatthewsBuilding Health Research Capacity in East Africa: Strengthening Equity and Global Collaboration