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Wits leads the DELTAS Africa Sub-Saharan Africa Consortium for Advanced Biostatistics (SSACAB)


The Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training, and Science in Africa (DELTAS Africa) was launched as a bold endeavour that continues to redefine and shift the centre of science gravity to the African region. The launch included 14 programmes, and among them was the Sub-Saharan Africa Consortium for Advanced Biostatistics (SSACAB-II) led by Professor Tobias Chirwa, Wits School of Public Health.

Signed through Wits Health Consortium, SSACAB-II is a biostatistics collaborative initiative consisting of seven partner institutions based in Africa and the north, and several collaborating institutions. The initiative is funded by the Wellcome and the UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to the tune of US$4.4 million over 4 years and is being implemented through the Science for Africa (SFA) Foundation.

SSACAB-II aims to develop biostatistical research excellence by providing answers by addressing seven biostatistical research questions that have direct policy implications for the population health and health needs of Sub-Saharan Africa. This programme will contribute towards building high-standard biostatistical capacity in Africa. Specialists with such competencies are limited and often inundated with the demand for their expertise.

“Funding initiatives have hugely increased the volume of high-quality data generated, but there are clear discrepancies between the amount of data and the capacity to analyse it,” says the SSACAB Programme Director, Professor Tobias Chirwa.

To bridge the gap, this programme assembles like-minded academic and research institutions to increase and strengthen researchers' biostatistical expertise thereby contributing to the growth of the biostatistical network – particularly in Africa.

The first round of SSACAB, which ran from 2015 to 2021, was notably successful in supporting numerousAfrican universities to develop Masters’s programmes in biostatistics. To date, 150 fellows have been awarded scholarships, of which 123 were Masters fellowships. This programme produced graduates who are employed in both African academia and research institutions, enhancing the programme’s objective to feed high-standard biostatisticians into the continent.

In 2019, the University of the Witwatersrand became the first African institution to gain Royal Statistical Society accreditation for a Biostatistics Masters programme. It is thus encouraging that Wits is leading the strides to guide other African institutions to the same capacity. SSACAB is invested to upskill the biostatisticians who were already in the field through facilitated conferences as well as face-to-face and online short courses. This has been an effective strategy for developing and teaching advanced biostatistics methods, supervision and mentoring of PhD candidates.

In looking to a successful, period ahead for this programme, Professor Chirwa says that “SSACAB II aims to develop regional nodes of biostatistics excellence in Africa which will be able to work with research and training institutions by applying advanced biostatistical and data science methodology to address cutting edge public health challenges”.