EDCTP supports four Regional Networks of Excellence, in Central, East, Southern and Western Africa, to strengthen regional networking and to provide platforms for research training and multicentre studies.
The four networks are:
Each network encompasses multiple institutions in sub-Saharan African countries, as well as European partners. They have a particular focus on developing research capacity in countries that do not have strong traditions of clinical research. Their capacity-building activities cover a range of areas:
Infrastructure development: Laboratory and other upgrades are carried out at less developed institutions in each network to enable them carry out high-quality clinical and laboratory research according to internationally recognized ICH-GCP standards. Similar upgrades are also carried out at more developed sites to ensure that they are internationally recognized and can attract international research or clinical trials.
Training and mentoring: The networks support long-term training of PhD and master’s students and career development fellows as well as short-term training of cross-cutting disciplines. Mentorship programs are also a key tool used by the networks to encourage exchange of knowledge and expertise, promote professional development and scientific leadership contributes to talent retention and sustainability within the network.
Resource sharing and harmonisation: Coordination between sites allows optimal use of resources and infrastructures within the network, early-career researchers benefit from a range of opportunities that enhance their technical skills, and provides a platform for multicentre studies. Strengthening South-South and North-South collaborations between researchers and institutions encourages and promotes networking and dialogue between researchers, communities and policy makers to maximise the impact of clinical research in Africa.
The networks undertake research projects, particularly epidemiological studies that can provide baseline data for future interventional studies. These projects also act as platform for PhD and master’s students to gain hands-on experience of research. Through the networks’ links, researchers can gain experience on multiple research techniques by travelling between sites.
The networks have also hosted multi-centre studies, funded by EDCTP and other agencies. These studies also provide excellent opportunities for early-career researchers to gain hands-on experience of various aspects of clinical research and laboratory techniques. The networks similarly provide a supportive environment for fellows, and have hosted several EDCTP career development and senior fellows.
Each network has sought to enhance coordination further by building bridges with other regional institutions and networks. These include the EDCTP-funded epidemic preparedness networks, ALERRT and PANDORA-ID-NET. These links have supported coordinated responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all networks contributing to activities aiming to gain a deeper understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and control, as well as its impact on other infections and health services.
Other important contributions made by the networks include collaborations with WHO AFRO and AU -AMRH to build national ethics review and regulatory capacity, as well as engagement with policymakers to promote evidence-based decision-making.