Further £3.4 million to build research capacity in Africa

22 September 2011

African science will benefit from an extra £3.4 million thanks to a grant by the Leverhulme Trust for the Royal Society to continue its capacity building scheme for Ghana and Tanzania. The Leverhulme – Royal Society Africa Awards have already seen £3.3 million invested in science in Africa over the last three years. Due to the scheme’s success so far, the Leverhulme Trust has agreed to extend funding for another five years.

The scheme, which was launched in October 2008, funds research collaborations between scientists in Ghana, Tanzania and the UK. It aims to help develop and maintain excellence in science in both countries and to strengthen the research and training capacity of the African institutions. So far 18 grants of up to £150,000 over three years have been awarded to support research and training in both African countries.

This next phase will provide Awards of up to £180,000 over three years for bi-lateral collaborations between researchers in the UK and Ghana or Tanzania. Funding will cover research costs, travel and subsistence, as well as procurement and maintenance of equipment.

In addition to support for research projects, changes to the way the scheme is run mean the next phase of funding will also provide one PhD scholarship for each of the Award holders in Ghana and Tanzania. The PhD student will be based at the host institution in either country. Award holders will also be able to involve an additional partner based at another research institutions within sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the scheme’s success stories so far stems from collaboration between researchers at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology in Ghana and the University of Edinburgh, entitled Safe Drinking Water using Appropriate Technologies for Ghana (SADWAT-GHANA). The scientists are developing technologies to produce safe drinking water using laterite, a soil-type rich in iron and aluminium, as a sorbent and ultrafiltration for physical disinfection.

As a spin-off from the research project, Faustina Atipoka, a member of the Ghanaian team, has carried out a fluoride survey of the Bongo District. The area has high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in its water, which can cause damage to teeth. Earlier this year, Atipoka took water samples from boreholes in the area, which she will analyse in Edinburgh. Importantly, she will couple the fluoride results with borehole information so that she can look at where the fluoride comes from and propose solutions for reducing its levels in the district. As a result, the team is now looking for industrial and aid support so that they can implement the project on a larger scale and possibly bring a sustainable solution to the region. Work has commenced to attract significant international attention with researchers from across the world coming to the Bongo district to work with Atipoka and offering assistance to solve various developmental problems. This includes a Cambridge-based charity involving Atipoka in fundraising for pit-latrines.

A further project has been funded through the scheme to address fluoride problems in Tanzania, where levels in drinking water can be several times higher and severe cases of skeletal fluorosis have been observed. The solutions developed have global applications.

Applicants for awards are encouraged to apply in five priority areas identified as being relevant for Ghana and Tanzania and indeed for other African nations. These areas are: agriculture (including animal health); water and sanitation; basic human health research (including medicinal chemistry); biodiversity (including medicinal plants and green chemistry) and energy (including renewable).

Professor Lorna Casselton, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, said:

“We are very pleased that this important scheme will be able to continue thanks to renewed support from the Leverhulme Trust. Having met some of the current Award Holders I know that this funding has made a real difference to how they are able to conduct their research. Africa is a place where even small advances in science could have a huge impact on the quality of life for people living there. This scheme provides an opportunity for African scientists to engage with UK experts to solve local problems.” 

Professor Sir Richard Brook, Director of the Leverhulme Trust, added:

“As is evident from the direct and purposeful collaboration between African and British colleagues in the selection of the awardees, this programme has found a splendid basis for shared research endeavour. There is every ground for believing that its extension will allow the research teams to advance and disseminate work of the highest quality and relevance.”  

The first round of applications for this next phase of the scheme will open in October 2011. There will be three annual calls, making five awards for each round, totalling the number of awards to 15 under the new Leverhulme grant.