Two East African universities have launched a new initiative to fund research activities that can help combat diseases with a devastating effect on the local people.
To be run by the schools of health sciences in Makerere University (MUK) and Mount Kenya University (MKU), the joint initiative will facilitate research and development of innovations to address health challenges that are a result of climate change and disease outbreaks such as Ebola, which have a direct impact on the economies of the regional countries.
MUK and MKU have already contributed an initial US$100,000 in seed money towards the initiative, and it is expected that other universities in the region will come onboard. A team of renowned researchers has also been put together to steer the fund and its research activities, mostly those that receive less funding from international donors.
Research focus areas will include non-communicable diseases, neglected tropical diseases, communicable diseases with a high burden, and disabilities in East Africa such as cancer.
The Makerere University Vice-chancellor Prof.Barnabas Nawangwe said the initiative is to provide home-grown solutions to problems facing East Africa.
“That way, our region can spearhead innovations that avert huge economic losses, morbidity and mortality beyond the capacity of the affected regions,” Prof. Nawangwe said
Further, he said that through such collaborations, East African universities will compete with institutions within the region and on the continent, especially in the areas of research and innovation.
“This will create synergy that results in both effective implementation of the institutional mission and … [the establishment of] training centres of excellence that promote quality training and the sharing of best practice,” Prof. Nawangwe said.
Dr Stanley Kangethe, principal investigator at MKU, says East African universities will collaborate in offering joint training and enabling research for undergraduate and postgraduate students through exchange programmes.
“We expect that before the end of this year the other universities will come on board,” Kangethe said, adding that they already advertised for students who want the funds for research.
He added: “The amount contributed by the universities will target the specific research programmes the universities want to jointly collaborate on, but all the funds towards the research will be administered through the two institutions.”
According to Dr. Kangethe, research proposals submitted by students will be subjected to peer review to ensure that they meet the criteria matching the universities’ standards in the region.
The key aim of the initiative is to stimulate and boost communication, cooperation and partnerships between universities in East Africa, to encourage the exchange of students and faculty, and to develop a twinned curriculum, thus enhancing educational quality and the resources of both institutions.
It will also help to make information on the academic programmes of both colleges available so that students can take full advantage of existing international educational opportunities, and ensure that universities in the region recognise each other as partners in training and research.
In a statement, Prof. Stanley Waudo, vice-chancellor of MKU, said the universities will work together as equal partners towards the improvement of higher education in the region.
“The competitive advantages that will be derived from the partnership between the universities will enhance the visibility, presence, openness and excellence of the two partner institutions,” he said.
The East African region faces the challenge of the double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases (CDCs), compounded by a shortage in health workers and inadequate access to quality health services by a majority of the population living in rural areas.
The region faces the problem of brain drain especially health personnel who go for green pastures in Southern Africa as well as Europe.