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Massive funding boost

- By Wits University

The School of Public Health at Wits University will use an approximately R70 million (3.337 million Pounds Sterling) cash injection to develop and improve biostatistical skills among researchers.

Professor Tobias Chirwa is one of seven leading African researchers to receive major funding, over five years, from the Wellcome Trust and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) to establish relevant research and training programmes across the continent.

World-class research environments

Through the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Initiative (DELTAS) Africa programmes, the fund strives to establish world-class research environments at African universities with a strong focus on creating training opportunities for the next generation of researchers.

The funds will be utilised by the Sub-Saharan African Consortium for Advanced Biostatistical Training (S2ACABT), a consortium of African and northern institutions, of which Wits University will lead.

Biostatistics is the branch of statistics responsible for the analysis and interpretation of scientific data generated in the biological and health sciences, in order to inform clinical or health policy and practice.

Chirwa, a biostatistician, in the School of Public Health and Head of the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, says “In many African countries, there is a shortage of well-trained biostatisticians.

The few people that are trained are often overwhelmed. In order to ensure that data is used to inform public health policy and practice for the benefit of the people in Africa, we need to prioritise training of African postgraduate biostatisticians who can provide the required analysis to a high standard.”

Health data analysis

S2ACABT will support the development of a network of biostatisticians to deliver statistical courses for biomedical researchers, develop and implement statistical theory to analyse health data, and create the framework for improved biostatistical skills among health researchers and academics in nine African countries.

“Sub-Saharan Africa faces a high and complex disease burden of communicable and  non-communicable diseases and requires context-specific research and advanced analytical capacity.

This initiative will place us in the leadership position in the country and the region in terms of biostatistical capacity, which will have many positive spin-offs for research in the Faculty of Health Sciences, as many of the large research projects tend to rely on expert biostatisticians from the North,” says Professor Laetitia Rispel, Head of the School of Public Health.

DELTAS funding is geared towards conducting research to address some of the continent’s most daunting health challenges.

Examples include genetic analysis of drug-resistant malaria across East and West Africa; developing mental health programmes in countries where there is little or no investment; locally relevant research into zoonotic infectious diseases and cross-cutting advanced biostatistics research to inform health policy and practice. 

In total, the DELTAS Africa scheme will award over £46 million (approximately US $70 million dollars) over an initial period of five years.

The programmes are led from universities and research institutes in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. All the programmes involve collaboration across the continent, including between French-speaking and English-speaking countries, and with international research centres.

The awardees are:

  • Professor Tobias F Chirwa for the Sub-Saharan Africa Advanced Training Programme for Leadership and Excellence in Biostatistics 

            Institution: University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa Award: £3.5 million

  • Dr Gordon A Awandare for the WACCBIP-Wellcome Trust DELTAS Programme 

    Institution: University of Ghana, Ghana Award: £5.1 million

  • Dr Dickson Chibanda for AMARI: African Mental Health Research Initiative

            Institution: University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Award: £4.1 million

  • Professor Abdoulaye Djimde for Developing Excellence in Leadership and Genetic Training for Malaria Elimination in Sub-Saharan Africa (DELGEME) 


            Institution: University of Science Techniques and Technologies of Bamako, Mali Award: £5.2 million 

  • Professor Alison Elliott for the Makerere University UVRI Centre of Excellence for Infection & Immunity Research and Training (MUII-plus) 


            Institution: Uganda Virus Research Institute, Uganda, Award: £4.6 million 

  • Dr Samson M Kinyanjui for the Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL)


            Institution: KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kenya Award: £8 million

  • Professor Thumbi Ndung'u for the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV research Excellence

            Institution: K RITH, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Award: £7.3 million