Diseases such as bilharzia, elephantiasis, worms, diarrhoea and sleeping sickness affect over one billion people worldwide, about half of these living in remote rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones in Africa. They contribute to ill health, irreversible disability and the ongoing cycle of poverty that leaves people unable to work, go to school or participate in family and community life.
While ‘the big three” infections – AIDS, TB and malaria – grab the headlines, these neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) receive little attention despite the huge numbers afflicted. The five European Foundations – Cariplo, Gulbenkian, Merieux, Nuffield and Volkswagen – identified NTD control as an untapped development opportunity to alleviate poverty in the world’s poorest populations and make a direct impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
The European Foundations Initiative for Neglected Tropical Diseases (EFINTD) was launched in 2008 to strengthen African research capacity in neglected tropical diseases and related public health research by supporting young African researchers working in African research institutions. Through a programme of research Fellowships totalling £5m, opportunities have been provided for young scientists to demonstrate their ability and commitment and to acquire the requisite research experience to become future research leaders in the NTD field.
13 postdoctoral scientists were awarded Junior Fellowships and 10 more experienced scientists awarded Senior Fellowships – with five of the Junior Fellows meriting progression to Senior Fellowships. Research capacity has been widened further as 29 Masters students and 17 PhD students have been supported through the projects.
EFINTD supported the Fellows to come together through skills training workshops and conferences, enabling the development of research partnerships that attracted international funding. To maintain the network, the EFINTD funders have provided funding for the development of an association of African NTD researchers (ARNTD) that allows the Fellows to continue interacting beyond the life of the individual fellowship projects and to expand to include other African researchers focussing on NTDs, including social scientists and public health researchers.
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Dr Wilhelm KrullVolkswagen-Stiftung
Director, EducationNuffield Foundation