Medical researchers in East Africa welcomed $7 million from the Grand Challenges Africa — Innovations Seed Grant program to foster African innovation in the medical field, the Guardian reports. Coordinated by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the Nepad Agency Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), Grand Challenges funds successful African researchers in the medical field.
“Solutions for Africa’s challenges do exist within the continent. As an African grant-making body, we are laser-focused on tapping the best minds on the continent to develop innovative local solutions to our health and development challenges,” AESA Director Tom Kariuki said.
The five-year initiative, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provides medical researchers with seed grants of up to $100,000 each. Successful researchers are also eligible to apply for an additional $1 million in funding for the advancement of their innovations.
Maternal Health Innovations
In Uganda, Professor Peter Waiswa of Makerere University says the program will help find solutions to maternal problems that are still proving costly for most African countries.
“All the attention is on HIV, so I think it is good that they are funding into this specific area. But…they are still small grants and we have to compete for them as a region,” he said.
Dr. Waiswa added that even though the fund is small it will help African researchers, who often face financial constraints, to scale up their innovations.
PATH Advocacy and Policy Manager in Kenya Pauline Irungu agreed with Dr. Waiswa on the HIV/AIDS research focus, which, she believes, has led to limited innovation.
Irungu now hopes the Africa-centered grants will challenge researchers on the continent to address other specific health problems, such as maternal mortality.
“HIV came with a bang. It was killing people and therefore there was a huge focus on it – there was a lot of investment. But I think because maternal and newborn child mortality has always been with us, I haven’t seen a similar impetus to put in resources and to push for innovation that can change the trajectory,” Irungu added.
The Grand Challenges initiative has already launched two requests for proposals that seek to find solutions and strategies to reduce maternal, neonatal, and child deaths in Africa and to create communication approaches to inspire African governments to fund research and development.