Four UCT research teams have received grants in the second phase of the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science in Africa (DELTAS II) programme. The highly competitive initiative aims to support international research consortia, led by Africa-based scientists, with the goal of amplifying the impact of research on the continent. A total of 14 research consortia were awarded grants.
Watch the videos to find out more about the research projects awarded
The researchers hail from the faculties of humanities, science and health sciences. They are all either principal investigators (PI) or co-principal investigators in projects which received significant funding to build strong Pan-African research networks. These networks are empowered through each grant to serve as a vehicle to identify and implement African-led solutions to grand challenge problems such as climate change or poverty and inequality.
The DELTAS II Africa programme is implemented by the Science for Africa Foundation
, with funding support from Wellcome and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in the United Kingdom.
Speaking at the DELTAS II Awards event held in Nairobi, Kenya, on 14 March, Tom Kariuki, executive director of the Science for Africa Foundation, said their vision is to lead in “strengthening African science for a better future in a global world”.
“We are pleased to see UCT researchers well-represented in these awards,” says Professor Sue Harrison, deputy vice chancellor for research and internationalisation at UCT. “The goals of the DELTAS Africa programme to drive African-led research dovetail with UCT’s Vision 2030
to unleash knowledge in, for and from Africa to re-define and co-create a sustainable global future.
“The building of the South–South research partnerships enabled by DELTAS II Africa is critical to growing research capacity on the continent, to tackle the grand challenge problems we face. UCT thus applauds not only the grantees for their important work but also the Science for Africa Foundation for driving this programme.”
The four UCT research projects awarded in the Deltas Africa programme are:
Cascading Climate and Health Risks in Cities (CASCADE)
Led by Professor Bruce Hewitson, director of the Climate Systems Analysis Group, CASCADE brings together diverse disciplinary experts with policymakers and practitioners to advance Africa’s response to urban climate and health risk. The research – leveraging multi- and trans-disciplinary partnerships – will investigate the relationships, and often cascading nature, of climate health risks in African cities. An integration between climate and public health scientists with other physical and social sciences, the project aims to build rich disciplinary evidence, while engaging with local government, city agencies and healthcare organisations, among others, in the public and civil society sectors.
“Rising temperatures are a critical climate hazard that is already unfolding within health-burdened systems in Africa but [remains] poorly recognised in health and urban planning on the continent,” says Hewitson. “A systems approach that encompasses intersecting health system risks, interventions and outcomes is required to develop comprehensive understanding that can guide effective interventions.”
Critical Zones Africa South & East (CzASE)
“A systems approach that encompasses intersecting health system risks, interventions and outcomes is required to develop comprehensive understanding that can guide effective interventions.”
CzASE, led by Professor Lesley Green, director of Environmental Humanities South, asks how research can build on local knowledge of how a landscape works, and use that information for policymaking and to build local resources that advance gender equality and improve habitability at the lowest possible cost. CzASE will conduct trans-disciplinary comparative studies on this issue at six African sites, in partnership with universities in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
“We aim to do big-picture research at each of the six sites to better understand how landscapes are changing in response to climate and other pressures. We will focus specifically on the changes in soil metabolism arising from changes in seasons; flows of water, nutrients, contaminants and ground cover; as well as changes arising from human activity,” says Green.
“Of central concern is understanding how social relations respond to landscape changes, while demonstrating a more equitable set of outcomes by improving habitability of the landscapes.”
African Mental Health Research Initiative 2.0 (AMARI II)
AMARI II is a consortium of six African universities dedicated to mental health research capacity-building. The project is led by Professors Dixon Chibanda of the University of Zimbabwe with Katherine Sorsdahl, co-director of the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health at UCT, leading the sub-Saharan African hub. Associate Professor Claire van der Westhuizen, also of the Alan J Flisher Centre, is leading the programme in South Africa.
AMARI II builds on the first project, AMARI I, which focused on developing excellence and leadership of over 40 fellows across four countries. AMARI II is an expansion of this programme, providing 85 fellowships to African mental health scholars and supporting them to become leaders in global mental health research. AMARI II will continue to build the capacity of early- and mid-career researchers in this field from the continent.
“It is estimated that only 10% to 25% of people living with mental health conditions in Africa are receiving treatment,” says Sorsdahl. “Given the large treatment gap, the only way we are going to make an impact is by working together and sharing experiences as an African mental health community.”
African Leadership for Measuring brain health in children and Adolescents (ALMA)
This programme, led by Professors Amina Abubakar of Aga Khan University in Kenya and Kirsten Donald, head of UCT’s Division of Neurodevelopment and deputy director of the Neuroscience Institute, seeks to understand early-life brain development within the unique African context. The ALMA-integrated neuroscience network will address three important gaps to better respond to the needs of African children and their optimal development:
• a dearth of locally generated evidence to inform locally relevant interventions,
• a lack of a critical mass of trained people to produce this evidence, and
• the need to equip and train neuroscientists across Africa.
“As the African population expands with a younger foundation, it is imperative that young brains have a thriving start,” says Donald. “ALMA seeks to build evidence around the factors that impact on brain growth and development from the earliest stages of life and on through childhood. Outcomes from this research will inform policy and practice, so that children in Africa can realise their full potential.”
Building Pan-African research networks
"Outcomes from this research will inform policy and practice, so that children in Africa can realise their full potential.”
Key to the DELTAS II programme is the collaboration among networks of researchers across the continent and abroad, including between better-resourced institutions and those who are poorly resourced. There is also a strong focus on improving gender equality and diversity, as well as multi- and cross-disciplinary research.
The research projects are set up as research consortia led by programme directors based at African institutions who work with other groups across the continent and the globe – as partners or collaborators.
The research projects are widely represented across the continent, with 14 consortia funded by DETLAS II. A total of 75 institutions are involved, of which 57 are African institutions from 29 African countries.
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