ARNTD participates in the 10th Annual CORNTD Meeting

L-R: Dr. Moussa Sangare, Dr. John Amuasi, Dr. Gladys Mbwanji, Ms. Virtue F. De-Gaulle, Dr. Abdallah Zacharia, Dr. Pauline Mwinzi, Louis Adu-Amoah

The African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD) joined the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) for its 2023 annual meeting.

The platform convenes coalition members to facilitate conversations among researchers, the World Health Organization (WHO), country program managers, implementers, and donors.

The 2-day event which took place at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago, USA, also marked ten (10) years since the Coalition was established as a platform for collaboration in conducting operational research aimed at controlling and eradicating NTDs.

This year’s meeting highlighted several themes and activities. One such theme was the African Researchers’ Small Grants Program (SGP), which was established in 2017 with funding from the United States Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID) and the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO). More recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has joined the group of funders.

The SGP initiative was mooted by the ARNTD Board Chair at the time, Dr. Pauline Mwinzi, and Executive Director John Amuasi, with support from the late Dr. Mwele Malecela (WHO NTDs) and Dr. Pat Lammie (TaskForce for Global Health).

Its aim was to keep the pipeline patent for NTD researchers by providing funding for them to conduct research and develop solutions for NTD problems proximal to them. The scheme, implemented by ARNTD through CORNTD on behalf of the funders, has over the past six (6) years, awarded grants to 75 early and mid-career scientists based in African institutions or whose work focuses on Africa.

The Executive Director of ARNTD, Dr. John Amuasi, during his address, emphasized the importance and impact of the collaboration that birthed this funding initiative.

He stated, “This is a clear testament of how when there is a clear agenda, confidence in the ability of partners to deliver, and when there are ready funders, a lot can be achieved within a relatively short time for relatively little money.”

He also underscored the limitation of the focus of the scheme on only the preventive chemotherapy NTDs (PC NTDs) and advocated for the coming on board of prospective funders to provide additional support for the many proposals that are non-PC NTDs based. 

In addition to the numerous ARNTD scientists and their mentees in attendance, some awardees from the Small Grants Program were provided travel bursaries to present their preliminary research findings at the event.

The presenters included Ms. Virtue De-Gaulle, Dr. Gladys Mbwanji, Dr. Abdallah Zacharia from the SGP V, and Dr. Moussa Sangare from the SGP VI cohort.

The full address of the Executive Director delivered at the meeting can be accessed by clicking here.

Sixth Cohort of the African Researchers’ Small Grants Program Announced

The African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD) together with the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Disease (COR-NTD) are delighted to present the nine recipients of the 2023 African Researchers’ Small Grants Program (SPG VI).

Over the first five years of the SGP, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Program and UK Aid from the UK Government have provided close to $1.5 million to about 65 researchers in over 15 African countries. With this funding, the SGP contributes to attaining the targets in the World Health Organization’s Roadmap: “Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: A road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030.” This year, with financial support again from USAID and from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, young and mid-career scientists will be able to join the fight against NTDs through impactful research.

At the fifth anniversary celebration of the African Researchers’ Small Grants program, John Amuasi, Executive Director, ARNTD, indicated, “It is profound how this investment in SGP has resulted in larger grants for these researchers as well as skill and knowledge transfer.”

“It is essential that young scientists in Africa have the opportunity to contribute their in-depth knowledge from their proximity to the field to the decision-making process. Research equity does not just happen; it’s a deliberate effort and the SGP definitely promotes this,” he noted.

“USAID is pleased to be supporting entry and mid-level career public health researchers through the African Researchers’ Small Grants program for the sixth year,” said Joseph Shott, Health Scientist in the Division of Neglected Tropical Diseases, Global Health Bureau, USAID.

He continued, “It’s a remarkable achievement for these scientists, and we hope that this opportunity opens more doors for them in the future. Concurrently, it will build the evidence base for new implementation and innovation strategies for national NTD programs.” 

Patrick Lammie, Program Director, COR-NTD, noted “I am impressed by the way that SGP has provided these young scientists with career defining moments, launching them into new opportunities and career trajectories. SGP is creating the next generation of young scientists who will eliminate NTDs.”

With Africa bearing about half the global burden of NTDs, the African Researchers’ Small Grants Program represents one of the innovative ways Africa is working towards reducing this disease burden through creating a critical mass of next-generation of NTD focused-scientists. 

Congratulations to the nine researchers listed below who have been selected for funding to enable them pilot context-driven initiatives to combat NTDs in their communities.

Celebrating Five Years of the African Researcher’s Small Grants Program

Neglected Tropical Diseases are a constellation of diseases which affect the world’s poorest and robs them of the opportunity to work and thrive in good health. While the African continent is saddled with the highest burden of these diseases, leadership by African scientists to set the agenda for NTD research and advocacy remains limited partly due to funding, but also low research capacity. It is time for a narrative change. 

In order to ensure that NTD control programs produce impactful results, building capacity among young African researchers and providing funding support represent promising solutions to retain a critical mass of next-generation scientists with interest in NTDs. To this end, governments and donors continue to forge partnerships that aim to make enormous strides  pushing the frontiers of elimination of these diseases.

The African Researchers’ Small Grants Program (SGP), implemented by the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and funded through the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases with support from the United States Agency for International Development, the Foreign, Commonwealth Development Office from the U.K. government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was designed to fulfill this lofty aim. 

Launched in 2017, the SGP provides research funding to individual researchers based on the African continent. With this funding, they can develop solutions to the problems posed by NTDs in their home countries. 

In the five years of its inception, the SGP has received about 1446 applications with 66 scientists awarded through the five cohorts. With close to  $1.5 million in research funds disbursed, many young African scientists are contributing to research that removes barriers to elimination in their home countries. Through this partnership the SGP initiative is influencing NTD research policy directions to meet the targeted goals in the 2030 WHO NTD Roadmap. 

2017

After extensive discussions between ARNTD, COR-NTD, and USAID, the Small Grants Program was created. The first request for proposals (RFP) attracted 97 applicants and six grants awarded. 

2018

After a successful pilot of the RFP mechanism used in first iterations of the SGP, joint funding from USAID and UK aid enabled a second cohort of 18 individuals to be selected out of 108 applicants.

2019

The RFP for the third cohort resulted in a record 515 applicants out of which thirteen individuals were selected to receive awards. Due to the success of the program, this was also the first year that awardees were able to request up to $30,000 per grant.

2020

The SGP IV cohort consisted of 14 researchers selected from 354 applicants.

2021

SGP V was the final round of joint USAID and UK aid funding. The fifth cohort received 372 applicants, 16 of whom received grants. 

2022

The RPF for SGP VI was launched on 1 September 2022 and garnered nearly 300 applicants from over 15 countries. Application review is underway. This marks the first year with additional funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

2023

On January 30, 2023 for World NTD Day, we will celebrate the successful implementation of the first 5 years of the program and later in the year the sixth cohort of the Small Grants Program will be announced. Join us in celebrating these young researchers, their research and how their work is making an impact in the community during the World NTD Day: Act Now, Act Together – Investing in Young African Research, an event co-hosted by ARNTD and COR-NTD.

Announcing the Fifth Cohort of the Small Grant Program

The Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Disease (COR-NTD) and the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD) are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 African Researchers’ Small Grants Program. Sixteen researchers (10 males and 6 females) from eight African countries have been selected as the fifth cohort of the Program (SGP V). The ARNTD, which manages the Small Grants Program,received 372 applications for SGP V, 38 of which made it to the final round for consideration. Congratulations to the recipients.

With generous funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and UK aid from UK Government, the African Researchers’ Small Grants Program has provided more than $1.5 million in research funds to 70 researchers over 15 countries, including this cohort. These efforts contribute to the World Health Organization’s Roadmap:  “Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: A road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030.”

According to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa, the African continent has 40 percent of the burden of NTDs worldwide. “Involvement of African entities in science, research and advocacy has been rather limited due to a scarcity of research experts, policy makers and implementers in the region,” said John Amuasi, Executive Director of the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD). “The African Researchers’ Small Grants Program aims to address that gap by investing directly in promising scientists in Africa.”

ARNTD facilitates the program through COR-NTD. “We are proud of our partnership with ARNTD over the past five years,” said Patrick Lammie, Director of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center, which serves as COR-NTD Secretariat. “This important initiative helps to build research capacity on the African continent.”

“USAID is very excited to support this year’s cohort,” said Joseph Shott, Health Scientist in the Division of Neglected Tropical Diseases, Global Health Bureau, USAID. “Research from past cohorts is already netting excellent results to further the NTD operational research agenda to improve NTD programs. I have no doubt that the research from this new cohort will continue these efforts.”

“Congratulations to the Small Grants Program awardees,” said Dirk Mueller, Senior Health Adviser in the Health Research Team of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). “The breadth of research to generate knowledge and diagnostics that can directly inform programmatic decisions around program monitoring, stopping, and surveillance is superb and much needed.”

ARNTD Executive Director Discusses NTDs and COVID-19 with Volkswagen Foundation

Health issues are now front burners on the global agenda due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview with Beate Reinhold of The Volkswagen Foundation, ARNTD’s Executive Director, Dr. John Amuasi discussed the pandemic, consequences on Neglected Tropical Diseases, and the One Health approach.

The interview, among other themes, discussed the responses of governments to pandemics and the resource needs in research and healthcare. 

“Research on NTDs slowed down and in the medium term we are very concerned that funding for NTD research and interventions will be lowered since funds are being diverted to new and emerging infections such as SARS-CoV-2….” said, Dr. Amuasi. 

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Personality of the Month: Dr. Ahmed Abd El Wahed

Dr. Ahmed Abd El Wahed is currently the head of the Virology lab at the University of Goettingen, Germany and a visiting professor at Cairo University, Egypt. He obtained a degree in Veterinary medicine from the Mansoura University, Egypt. After graduation, and with an interest in host/virus interaction, he conducted a research on poxviruses and obtained a master in Virology in 2006. Dr. Abd El Wahed, continued to Germany to further hone his research skills, where he developed a method for rapid mapping of antibody targets, which have significant impact on diagnostics and vaccine development.

Dr. Abd El Wahed lauded the mentoring of Prof. Gerhard Hunsmann specifically in project proposal development and scientific text writing and Prof. Hans-Joachim Fritz’s contribution to his total development as a scientist as indispensable to his progress. After obtaining his PhD in biology in 2011 and together with Prof. Frank Hufert, Prof. Manfred Weidmann and other colleagues, they launched a new adventure of “research to impact” which culminated in the development of a mobile suitcase laboratory for rapid detection of pathogens such as hemorrhagic fever viruses at low resource settings. He conducted his initial field trial in Senegal in 2013 with the support of local scientists including Dr. Amadou A Sall.

In 2013 he was a recipient of the Young Investigator’s Award at the ASTMH for the development of this diagnostic tool. He considered this feat as one of the significant strides that impacted his scientific maturity. As a result of that same meeting, he would meet with Prof. Axel Kroeger and Dr. Dinesh Mondal, with whom they were able to get fund from three different organizations to implement the mobile suitcase lab for the detection of leishmania cases. Dr. Abd El Wahed also has ongoing project funded by the German Research foundation to support research on paratuberculosis in Uganda and Sudan. He indicated that a critical requirement of these grants was the need to for all the work on the project to be done in Africa with junior African scientists so as to build their capacity.

Dr. Abd El Wahed revealed that rabies was a huge problem in a number of African countries including Egypt, and that partnering with a mentor in Prof. Mohammad Shalaby, their team had started to build a consortium in order to employ the rapid diagnostic method for the surveillance and also deploy oral vaccines for stray dogs. He was enthused about the Egyptian government’s effort in being able to eliminate schistosomiasis and filariasis. He was hopeful that with the collaboration of the policymaker, private sector and community, Egypt would eliminate rabies before 2030.

In spite of the noteworthy successes, he decried the inadequate funding for research and poor public education as drawbacks to the control and elimination efforts in NTDs. He noted the added advantage, if private sector would be involved and share in disease elimination efforts. Dr. Abd El Wahed also considered social media as a perfect platform in recent times to disseminate information though great caution needed to be taken to avoid false message.

As true of many scientists, he has tasted of the bitter pill of seeing manuscripts, research proposals and application rejected. He shared an example of the manuscript on the first development of the suitcase lab being rejected 6 times. However, after its deployment in the detection of Ebola-infected cases during the recent outbreak, his fame went wide and granted interviews with institutions such as the Wall Street Journal, Aljazeera and DW, besides being reported in big media houses such as the BBC and CNN. Dr. Abd El Wahed said, “I have learned from my rejected applications more than the accepted ones. The take-home message, never give up.”

Dr. Abd El Wahed said attending conferences was very important for young early-stage scientists to build networks. He encouraged them to publish any good or negative results no matter how scanty they were since the scientific community would benefit from them. He hoped that researchers will not forget that the university was established to help the community and thus research must be based on real problems and bring relevant solutions to the locals. He advised that policymakers and community members‘ engagement should always be prior to undertaking any research so as to gain their ownership, support and involvement. He also encouraged scientists to simplify language and communications to make it understandable to the locals and policymakers.

When asked about the source of the motivation for his innovation to run a Summer School in partnership with African and German Universities for young African scientists, he noted that the idea started, when his colleague Dr. Kamal Eltom asked him to host 10 of his students for practical training in Germany. He proposed to the Volkswagen Foundation to support such activities, and discussed the possibility to train African young researcher in Africa, first to get them to know each other and second to use the local infrastructure in Africa. He indicated that though Africa had some excellent capacities, we lacked a lot of intra-collaborations and often preferred to conduct our research abroad. Thus, the summer school was to raise a generation of African Scientists with more links to the continent and more collaborations with other African colleagues.

In positioning the ARNTD to be able to build a cadre of young scientists interested in NTD research, he praised the call for proposal in the Small Grants Program as a great opportunity for young Africa researchers to realize their ideas. He wanted the Network to be more active on Social Media and create its own YouTube channel to disseminate knowledge. He advised that it would be best to have national focal point persons to disseminate information about the ARNTD and also encourage young researchers to join.

He stated that currently, the ARNTD was a powerful player in Africa and recognized internationally and that more involvement from policymakers and African donors in our activities was urgently needed. Dr. Abd El Wahed called for the recognition and highlighting of core facilities all-over Africa to facilitate world-class research on the continent. He encouraged members to help create a list of diseases based on local/national problems. He suggested that the idea of an ARNTD-accredited training certificate on NTD would be a plus for the network. He encouraged the Network to explore collaborations with Asian counterparts to strengthen our role as international player.

To strategically position ARNTD as a relevant network of African NTD experts to shape/influence the setting of research agenda and policy formulation in NTD burdened countries, he indicated that representation of the ARNTD in the African Union and African CDC, and any means to bridge the communication gap between scientists and politicians could guarantee the implementation of our research.

Dr. Abd El Wahed is married to a pharmacist and they have two beautiful daughters. He told ARNTD that his wife was usually the first to assess his work, celebrate the success and encourage him during the difficult moments. He lauded the continuous prayer, support and encouragement from his family as motivations to his continued career.

A Record 18 Scientists Receive Research Awards from the African Researchers’ Small Grants Program (SGP II)

The second cohort of grantees of the African Researchers’ Small Grants Program (SGP II) have been selected by the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Department for International Development (UK aid), and the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD).

 

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African Grants Program Builds Local Capacity

Photo Courtesy: Jean-Rivel Fondjo

Africa accounts for 40 percent of the global burden of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Last year, The Task Force and its partners launched a grants program to support African scientists in conducting operational research studies on the control and elimination of these diseases.

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The most dangerous enemies of humanity

The Enemies of Humanity

Arthropod-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and the Zika virus, seem to be emerging and re-emerging at an alarming rate in the last few years. In this post, we discuss how the technological progress and promise of modern medicine and biotechnology, which has saved countless lives already, contrasts with the continual problems caused by the rapid changes in our world, the lack of political will to provide funding to develop new and implement existing solutions, and the simple lack of public awareness and support.

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