International Women’s Day 2024: Investing in women to accelerate progress

08 March 2024

This year on International Women’s Day, EDCTP joins the global health community in celebrating diversity and empowerment and underscores its commitment to investing in women and accelerating progress towards achieving gender equality in science.

The UN’s Gender Snapshot 2023 report highlights “the urgent need for concrete efforts to accelerate progress towards gender equality by 2030, revealing that an additional $360 billion per year is needed to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment across key global goals.” The report calls for sustained funding on gender-equality measures and policy actions to address gender disparities.

In keeping with these needs, EDCTP has purposely invested in activities to address regional and gender disparities in health research in sub-Saharan Africa and continues to do so. Both the EDCTP2 and Global Health EDCTP3 programmes support gender equity and promote the interest of populations with major unmet medical needs – steps that are instrumental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and realising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Increasing female researcher participation

EDCTP has made targeted investments to boost the participation of women in its funding programmes. Nearly 40% of EDCTP2-supported projects are led by women, and almost half of the 992 African academic trainees (Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students) supported by EDCTP are women. In addition, we promote the participation of women in all stages of our decision-making and independent review procedures, with 39% of technical reviews conducted by women under the EDCTP2 programme.

We have also been successful in advancing women in Africa as research leaders through our comprehensive EDCTP2 fellowship scheme – 40% are women compared to 22% under the EDCTP1 programme).

Global Health EDCTP3 aims to maintain this gender equity legacy. Out of the 28 projects funded under the 2022 calls for proposals, 11 are led by a female coordinator or female scientific project leader. From the 2023 calls for proposals, out of the first 27 projects that are expected to be funded, 16 are coordinated by a woman.

EDCTP Career Development Fellow, Dr Margaret Japhet

Dr Margaret Oluwatoyin Japhet is an Associate Professor of Virology at the Department of Microbiology, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Nigeria. She is an EDCTP and New York Academy of Science Fellow, being awarded different grants for viral studies by both organisations. Her research focus is on viral studies to solve indigenous and global human health problems.

“My EDCTP Fellowship allowed me to develop a rapid, sensitive and easy to perform equipment free rotavirus diagnostic kit using nanotechnology. Commercialisation and implementation of this test have the potential to enhance prompt and rapid diagnosis of rotavirus, leading to improved management of diarrhoea in children, which can ultimately reduce rotavirus diarrhoea morbidity and mortality in children. Additionally, this could lead to the development of other viral diagnostic kids and job creation.”


Promoting equity in careers

Since 2020, EDCTP has focused on attracting more women at an early stage to pursue a career in health research by offering PhD fellowships dedicated to women across all regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Over four years, this fellowship programme for women is supporting the PhD training and wider development of 32 researchers, helping to address health research workforce inequities at this early career stage. The EDCTP Regional Networks of Excellence coordinate the recruitment and mentorship of candidates:

  • CaFe-SEA (Capacity Building for Female Scientists in East Africa, coordinated by Eastern Africa Consortium for Clinical Research (EACCR)
  • TAGENDI (TESA addressing gender and diversity regional gaps in clinical research capacity)
  • TALENT (Creating a gender sensitive platform for clinical research in WANETAM)
  • WISE (Strengthening gender capacity in clinical research within CANTAM network)

Each Regional Network of Excellence is developing or refining their policy on gender equality, diversity and inclusion to be implemented across each institution in the network. We are investing further in this scheme to support 20 more women in Africa to undertake a PhD.

Recognising female scientists

In 2023, EDCTP continued to recognise and celebrate the significant contributions of world-leading female scientists working in sub-Saharan Africa as a means of promoting their leadership and inspiring more women to develop a career in science.

EDCTP Outstanding Female Scientist Prize

This biennial prize is awarded to world-leading female scientists in sub-Saharan Africa working on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected infectious diseases in the scope of the EDCTP2 programme. It recognises women who have made a significant scientific contribution and built measurable impactful research capacity through training and mentorship for the future generation of researchers/scientists in Africa. In November 2023, Professor Kogie Naidoo, Deputy Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), was awarded the 2023 EDCTP Outstanding Female Scientist Prize.

EDCTP Outstanding Research Team Prize

This prize is awarded to outstanding research teams in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe working on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected infectious diseases in the scope of the EDCTP2 programme. It recognises the outstanding achievements, and scientific and policy impact of teams that are actively involved in research, capacity development and networking in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. In November 2023, the Health Research Unit in Zimbabwe (THRU-Zim) was awarded the 2023 EDCTP Outstanding Research Team Prize. Demonstrating the increasing leadership roles being taken on by women in health research, the THRU-Zim team is led by Professor Rashida Ferrand and Professor Katharina Kranzer from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and carries out a wide range of research studies across the life-course, from newborns, adolescents and through to older people.

Addressing the health research needs of women

According to WHO, more than half of the world’s maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where infectious diseases remain the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, especially during pregnancy and childhood. There are significant gender gaps in both research funding and the clinical research conducted. Women are significantly under-represented in research in sub-Saharan Africa (and other regions), are disadvantaged within certain societies, and/or have specific issues that need to be considered in the design of clinical research studies. EDCTP’s programmes encompass populations often excluded from clinical studies but with major unmet medical needs – including pregnant women, newborns, children, adolescents, other vulnerable populations, and people with co-infections and comorbidities.

Now in the latter stages of the EDCTP2 programme, we are heartened to see projects supported with a focus on these under-represented populations, such as pregnant women, are reporting encouraging results with the potential for significant impact.


Malaria during pregnancy can cause serious maternal and newborn health issues, especially in women living with HIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends daily doses of the antibiotic co-trimoxazole to prevent malaria in pregnant women living with HIV residing in areas with high malaria transmission. However, its efficacy in sub–Saharan Africa is threatened because malaria parasites are becoming increasingly resistant to the drug. Until now, no suitable alternative or additional preventative treatment has been identified for pregnant women living with HIV.

The results of IMPROVE-2 and MAMAH showed that the addition of the antimalarial drug dihydroartemisinin–piperaquine (DP) to daily co-trimoxazole substantially reduces the risk of malaria infection and disease in pregnant women on HIV treatment. These study results could lead to a much-needed policy change that could make a real difference in improving maternal and newborn health in Africa.

Building on the work of EDCTP1 and EDCTP2, Global Health EDCTP3 works to deliver new solutions to reduce the burden of infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa since 2021. It continues to fund research projects that will assess existing health interventions in women and children in sub-Saharan Africa, and hopefully bring new vaccines and treatments to these populations. It does so by funding competitive calls for proposals, some of which with a focus on vulnerable groups such as pregnant and lactating women and children, and capacity-building activities.

PROTECT project

The PROTECT project aims at developing the capacity to rapidly implement phase III/IV maternal vaccine clinical trials by addressing key gaps in the electronic health records in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Uganda. The focus will be on two vaccines for pregnant women that will protect their unborn infant from group B streptococcus and respiratory syncytial virus. Through the development of pregnancy registries, the project will enable healthcare professionals to monitor potential safety signals once the new vaccines are rolled-out. PROTECT will work closely with WHO, the African Medicines Agency and country stakeholders to co-develop pregnancy registries, surveillance systems, and maternal vaccination communications toolkits.

More information

  • The PhD fellowships programme dedicated to women is being implemented as an EDCTP2 Participating States Initiated Activity (PSIA) and a Global Health EDCTP3 In-Kind contribution to Additional Activities (IKAA) supported by the UK National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. The NIHR Global Health Research portfolio supports high-quality applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using international development funding from the UK Government.
  • The IMPROVE-2 and MAMAH studies are part of the EDCTP2 programme supported by the European Union, with co-funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the UK Department of Health and Social Care, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, the Medical Research Council and Wellcome, through the Joint Global Health Trials scheme.