Propelling Health Research & Innovation in Africa through Africa's Higher Education Institutions

Africa aspires to attain a future where it’s citizens have quality health and excellent well-being. Sustainable Development Goal three (SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being) builds on this hope by providing guidance to ensure the attainment of this goal as the continent progresses towards sustainable and equitable health. To achieve this, African governments have made commitments through various initiatives to strengthen health care systems as well as build capacities for innovative research in addressing health-related challenges in the region. One of the core interventions is the series of Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence- a World Bank initiative in collaboration with African governments to strengthen the capacity of universities to deliver quality education to address regional developmental challenges.

There are currently 13 centres of excellence in West and Central Africa focusing on various thematic areas of the health sector including cell biology and genomics of infectious diseases, tropical diseases, reproductive health, maternal and infant health, pharmaceutical science, and genetic and herbal medicines. The centres have played pivotal roles in leading transformative research contributing to policy advice, in addition to managing and solving critical health challenges in the sub-region, continentally and globally.
Currently, 5,813 students (804 PhD, 1,827 Masters and 3,182 professional short course students) have been enrolled by the health centres under the project. Out of the total number, 3,061 are female students. Other key milestones include US$ 53,988,676.35 million external revenue generated; 1,398 research publications and over 946 practical internships for students.

Partnerships and Collaborations
As strategic partnerships and collaborations hold significant potential to transform and strengthen centres’ goals in line with project implementation and sustainability, centres have forged many valuable partnerships with other institutions, industries and inter-ACE networks. The African Centre of Excellence for Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP) for example has collaborated with the Kenya Nutritionists and Dieticians Institute (KNDI) and seven Kenya Universities. Regarding inter-ACE collaborations, the World Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Regional Facilitation Unit (RFU-AAU) established the Inter-ACE Thematic Networks to foster collaborative research and learning among the ACEs in various thematic areas including agriculture, energy, and digital education, transport and logistics. Although the networks are focused on the centres, industries and non-ACE academic institutions are encouraged to partner to further promote thematic collaborations. Two of the 12 Thematic Networks are focused on health.  

Grants and Awards 
In recognition of leadership and contributions to addressing health challenges on the continent and globally:
1. Prof. Lorna Awo Renner, Deputy Centre leader for WAGMC received the 2021 International Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award 
2. Prof. Diabate Abdoulaye, Centre Director for the African Center of Excellence in Biotechnology Innovation for Vector-borne Disease Elimination (CEA/ ITECH-MTV) also received the Newcomb Cleveland Prize for his outstanding research on fighting malaria in Africa. 
3. Prof. Christian Happi, Centre leader for ACEGID has received the 2020 Bailey K. Ashford Medal by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
4. Prof. Gordon Awandare, Centre leader of WACCBIP received two awards from the University of Ghana during the College of Basic and Applied Sciences (CBAS) Meritorious Awards ceremony. One in recognition of his outstanding service to the College and University and another for his leadership in COVID-19 research to support the national response. 

Centres have accessed competitive funds to further their research activities. ACEPHAP won a US$553,054 Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct an E-MOTIVE Trial (Early detection of postpartum haemorrhage and treatment) in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. CERHI in collaboration with ACEGID was awarded a Grant by the Nigerian government to validate Rapid Diagnostic Tests kits (RDT) for COVID-19 testing in Nigeria. Also, the West Africa Centre for Genetic Medicine (WAGMC) received a US$3 million Grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH),  to sequence the whole genome DNA of children with sickle cell disease in Ghana.  
Click to read more on ACE Health centres 
WACCBIP (Ghana) Diagnoses Genetics of Hearing Impairment in Ghana 
WACCBIP researcher examining an Adamorobe inhabitant

The West Africa Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) hosted by the University of Ghana since its inception in 2014, has been at the forefront of addressing health-related challenges in the region through applied scientific and biomedical research in infectious and non-communicable diseases as well as human genetic research. There have been numerous breakthroughs from the cutting-edge research conducted by the centre. One of the major research innovations is the diagnosis of the genetics of hearing impairment in Ghana. 

Adamorobe, a community in the Akuapim South District in the Eastern region of Ghana has a characteristically high incidence of hereditary hearing impairment (HI). It is therefore not surprising that marriages between deaf persons were barred in the town in 1975, to curb the rate of deaf offspring. To further understand the cause(s) of the hearing impairment, WACCBIP, with its modern next-generation sequencing approaches investigated this challenge by recruiting thirty (30) individuals from eight (8) multiplex families (20 affected and 10 unaffected) from the community, and found the families had GJB2 mutations (GJB2 is an important gene for hearing.  Specific mutations in this gene causes hearing impairment).

WACCBIP started a public and policy engagement to create awareness for the genetics of hearing impairment.  Also, a diagnostic test with high sensitivity and specificity to screen newborn babies for common hearing impairment mutations within the Ghanaian population was designed.

Read more on the hearing impairment research here

Excellent Science and Advocacy by ACEGID & Partners sees the World Health Organisation (WHO) agreeing to rename Monkeypox
Prof. Christian Happi, Director- Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Nigeria

The Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Nigeria (ACEGID) has since June 2022 been leading a team of scientists from Africa and beyond to advocate for the renaming of the Monkeypox virus by the World Health Organisation.  This advocacy was rooted in the need to counter discrimination and stigmatization of Africa after recent global outbreaks of the Monkeypox disease proved that the disease had no clear link to Africa, yet the current classification of the two types of recognized Monkeypox variants (clades), bear names which are traced to Africa – that is the ‘West African’ clade and the ‘Central African Clade, also known as the ‘Congo Basin’ Clade. It is expected that the renaming exercise will align with best practices and help to eliminate racism, discrimination and stigmatization. 

Professor Christian Happi, the Centre Leader of ACEGID, and the rest of the scientists explained that references to the 2022 outbreak as belonging to the “West African” or “Western African” clade/strain is inaccurate, given that the origin of the current global outbreak is still unknown.  Besides, the naming of diseases after the geographical locations where they were first detected is in contrast with the best practice of avoiding geographic locations in the nomenclature of diseases and disease groups as outlined in the WHO’s Guidelines.

The scientific research, high-quality publication, and advocacy by ACEGID and their collaborating partners and researchers can be said to have paid off as WHO announced that it is “working with partners and experts from around the world to change the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.”

Read more here

The Fight against COVID-19

How ACE-Impact health centres supported a stronger regional response  through cutting-edge & innovative research
Students of ACEGID at the laboratory 

The African Continent, and by extension the world, suffered the brutal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in its various sectors including the higher education sector.  This article profiles the impressive contribution of the Centres in the thematic areas of health, under the ACE Impact project, in responding to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic on society.  

Key Interventions 
The centres have been instrumental in conducting cutting-edge research to guide the development of new approaches to disease diagnosis, prevention, and control. During the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, WACCBIP (Ghana) and ACEGID (Nigeria) were the first institutions in the sub-region to sequence the SARS-CoV 2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) to track mutations. In addition, CERHI and ACENTDFB (both in Nigeria) made available their ultra-modern laboratories in support of PCR tests for the COVID-19 virus.

Technological Innovations 

Some of the non-health thematic ACEs came up with technological inventions which contributed greatly to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centre of Excellence for Mathematics, Computer Science, and ICT (CEA-MITIC), Senegal developed a software for the electronic management of COVID-19 patients’ files and an app for self-screening.  The centre for the Teaching & Learning of Math and Science for Sub-Saharan Africa (CEA-MS4SSA) also produced solar-powered hand washing equipment for institutions in Niger.
Read more on centres' contributions to COVID-19 management

ACEGID (Nigeria) Trains 100+ Scientists from Over 30 African Countries in One Year 

In the last year, the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) has trained over 100 African scientists from more than 30 countries in next-generation sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens. This is part of the centre’s effort at building genomics capacity across Africa. Participants receive hands-on sequencing and bioinformatics training facilitated by ACEGID’s pool of young doctoral and research fellows. The centre continues to drive innovation in using genomics for surveillance, characterization and diagnosis of infectious diseases as well as for vaccine and drug development.

ACEGID’s Director, Prof Christian Happi, discussed the rationale for the centre’s drive for capacity building on the continent. “We know that Africa has lots of pathogens that have pandemic potential. I think it is natural for Africa to be in the vanguard. Building capacity will enable Africa to be at the forefront of genomic surveillance, pandemic pre-emption and response,” he said. Anissa Chouikha, Associate Professor at the Laboratory of Clinical Virology, Pasteur Institute of Tunis, said “This training is important to me because I am a virologist. It will help me monitor new variants and strains that are circulating in my country.”
Read more about ACEGID Training here 
Find out more about ACEGID here 

ACEs Lead Health Research in Infectious and Genetic Diseases

Through partnerships with various international and local institutions, some of the health focused Africa Centres of Excellence are involved in research which is seeking answers to solving some of humanities challenges and curbing diseases. ACEGID for instance is part of a consortium conducting numerous studies (including an epidemiology study) in line with preparations for the trials of safe, effective, and affordable vaccines for Lassa fever. The centre was also the lead in sequencing the first case of Ebola in Nigeria within 48 hours, a singular feat that led to early containment, management, and control of the disease in Nigeria, and hence saving lives of the many people who could have been infected by the disease. 

With an estimated number of about 14, 000 babies born each year with sickle cell disease in Ghana alone, the West Africa Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC) is focusing on undertaking key research on sickle cell diseases. WAGMC is also involved in continental level initiatives, projects and networks including the Sickle Cell Diseases Genomics Network of Africa (SickleGenAfrica). 

Read more on other health research here

ACE Impact Holds its First In-Person Regional Workshop since 2020 

The Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) held its 7th biannual Regional Workshop in Benin from June 13th to 17th, 2022. The regional workshop brought together approximately 300 participants, including the fifty-three (53) Centres of Excellence and key stakeholders, government representatives from participating countries, Vice-Chancellors, representatives from the higher education sector, subject matter experts, and the project's partners, such as the World Bank, the French Development Agency, and the Association of African Universities.
Follow the links below to read more on the workshop proceedings: 
Opening Ceremony                   Press Conference              Project Updates by  ACE Impact Project Manager  
Monitoring &Evaluation Updates             Observations By Subject Matter Experts          Entrepreneurship & Innovation
The C-CoDE Model       IT Recommendations                    Gender Policies in Action              Development Impact      Experts' Recommendations

ACENTDFB (Nigeria) Research Discovers Prevalence of Dengue in Northern Nigeria 
Contrary to indications on the commonality and prevalence of Dengue fever in some parts of Nigeria, a study by a Master's degree student of the Africa Center of Excellence for Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology, (ACENTDFB) hosted by the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, Daniel Thakuma Tizhe found the presence of Dengue infection, as well as Dengue and Malaria co-infections with an overall sero-prevalence of 19.4% in Adamawa State.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection that occurs in tropical and subtropical areas of the world such as Africa and Asia. The virus is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female mosquitoes. The infection causes flu-like illness, and occasionally develops into a potentially lethal complication called Severe Dengue. The global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades and about half of the world’s population is now at risk. There is no specific treatment for dengue/severe dengue, but early detection and access to proper medical care lowers fatality rates from more than 20% to less than 1%.

Prior to this study, dengue had not been reported in the study location, but this survey found dengue infection, as well as dengue and malaria co-infections, across the study locations with an overall sero-prevalence of 19.4%. Based on the study’s findings, it was recommended that public healthcare professionals should consider other causes of febrile illnesses hence the need to conduct laboratory diagnosis to determine the possible causes of the infection. 
Find out more about Dengue here
Profiling the  Africa Centre of Excellence for Mother and Child Health (CEA-SAMEF), Senegal
CEA-SAMEF Pediatric Students

The Africa Centre of Excellence for Mother and Child Health, hosted by the University of Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) in Senegal, is one of the 53 centres of excellence supported with funding from the World Bank to enhance capacities in post-graduate training and applied research. CEA-SAMEF specializes in training and research in Maternal and Child Health, Nutrition and Public Health. Given the increased ratio of maternal and child mortality in the region (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports that Sub-Saharan Africans suffer from the highest maternal mortality ratio –200,000 maternal deaths a year), the role of CEA-SAMEF in addressing this challenge cannot be overestimated.

Since 2019, 453 students have been trained by CEA-SAMEF. Out of the total number of students, 89 are MSc students trained in Public Health, Child Health and Survival, Clinical research, Pediatric Dentistry, Maternal and Child Nutrition while 296 accounts for the total number of PhD students in Public Health and Nutrition and Human Food, among other programmes. Short-term programmes in the areas of Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care, Post-Abortion Care, Contraceptive Technology, Resuscitation and Pediatric Emergencies, among others are offered to health professionals. Currently, over 68 health professionals have received training from the centre. 162 students have also benefitted from practical internship opportunities.
Read more on CEA-SAMEF here

STUDENT VOICES - Garjila Danjuma Tackles Food Fraud in Nigeria

Food fraud and Authenticity is gradually becoming one of the most crucial and active food research feilds globally. As such, it remains a critical issue in most countries on the continent.  

Mr. Garjila Danjuma Gansheya is a Master’s student at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety (ACEMFS), Federal University of Technology Minna, Nigeria. He is conducting an investigative study on Food Fraud Detection, Analysis, and Modifying Mitigating Techniques aimed at contributing to the practical steps laid down by the Nigerian government and other health research to minimize food fraud. 

He noted that “Food fraud has become an evolving challenge in the Nigerian health system that has led to the deaths of many people, especially the vulnerable groups that include mostly children, the elderly, and immune-compromised persons."

To further create awareness on Food fraud and Authenticity, Mr. Gansheya in collaboration with some of his colleagues would carry out sensitization programs in the Taraba, Gombe, Adamawa, and Bauch communities in Northeastern Nigeria. Garjila’s career goal is to become a Food Safety Scientist, “to proffer solutions to food-related issues and challenges, by building a path for safe food in Nigeria and Africa.” He added that students should be “diligent at their research and never relent because the world awaits their inputs to make it a better place.”
Read more 

In line with the new ACE Impact project educational video series launched to cover the centres of excellence across Africa, we are pleased to share with you a documentary on the West Africa Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP). The documentary features information on the centre, their available programmes, various new and innovative research taking place, student experiences, facilities, opportunities and much more. The video also highlights the centre's contributions to addressing health challenges in the region through ground-breaking genomics research. 
Click here to watch the documentary on WACCBIP 
Maximizing Your Digital Reach

Centre Website of the Month - Congratulations to West African Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC) hosted by the University of Ghana for their visually appealing, user-friendly and technologically advanced website. WAGMC aims to TRECK aims to groom a class of genetic scientists and counsellors with superior skillset as well as transform their research outcomes into innovative health care solutions.
Find out about their programmes, learn more about their internship opportunities, research areas and other exciting initatives and activities of the centre. Visit the website here for more information. 

January-June Highlights
  1. ACEDHARS organizes workshop on Human Drugs Capacity Development. Read more
  2. CEA-SMA launches Research School of Arithmetic, Algebra, and Applications. Read more
  3. KNUST to host Africa's first Centre of Excellence in Engineering, Innovation, Manufacturing, and Technology. Read more
  4. KEEP awarded €104,700 Grant to establish an internship program on Environmental Sustainability. Find out more
  5. KEEP collaborates with the University of Rwanda. Read more
  6. CEA-MITIC organizes a webinar on the Internet of Things and Applications. Find out more
  7. WACWISA organizes its 3rd International Conference on Irrigation and Agriculture Development (IRAD 2022). Read more
  8. WACWISA hosts a delegation from the National Water Institute of the University of Abomey Calavi of Benin. Find out more
  9. ACECoR collaborates with partners to organize an Entrepreneurship Curriculum Needs Assessment. Read more
  10. Des projets de recherche conjoints financés par le CEALT entre l’Université de Djibouti et l’Université de Dire Dawa ont été lancés. Read more
  11. ACEDHARS trains over 162 health practitioners in Liberia. Read more
  12. Centre for Applied Infomatics and Communication (CApIC-ACE), Nigeria calls for applications to is MSc and PhD programmes| Deadline: 19th August, 2022. Apply here
  13. ACE-PUTOR's contribution to Midwifery education in Nigeria. Read more
  14. College of Engineering, Benin organizes workshop on Quality Assurance. Read more
  15. WACCI calls for strategic investments in seed systems. Find out more
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This newsletter is brought to you by:

Dr. Ekua Bentil                                                                                         Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire                                  
Senior Education Specialist, World Bank                                                 ACE Impact Project Manager
ACE Impact Task Team Leader                                                         Association of African Universities

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