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Researchers Win £6.1m to Target Human and Animal Diseases in Africa

Deadly diseases including plague, Ebola and Rift Valley Fever are being targeted as part of a new multi-million pound international partnership involving African researchers and LIDC. The Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) links medical and veterinary institutions from five African countries and the UK to improve the capacity of African institutions to detect, identify and monitor infectious diseases affecting humans and animals, including new infectious human diseases of animal origin.

 

SACIDS will  primarily be supported by a grant of £6,096,312 announced today by the Wellcome Trust – the UK’s largest charity  under its African Institutions Initiative. The SACIDS network, involving researchers from Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, and the UK, was launched at its Secretariat meeting at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania, on 31 March 2009.

 

'Smart partnership'

SACIDS has made a ‘smart partnership’ with LIDC – a collaborative project bringing together social and natural scientists from six University of London colleges. Two of these colleges – the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) – are to support SACIDS in various ways, including helping to develop courses and research skills for African researchers. This interdisciplinary partnership embodies the ‘one health’ approach, which promotes collaborations between human and animal health sectors. The link between SACIDS and LIDC also fulfils many of LIDC’s aims to address complex international development issues  by  promoting interdisciplinary research, creating new teaching programmes, establishing partnerships with institutions in the developing world, and  helping to build capacity in low- and middle-income countries.
 
Addressing major problems
SACIDS’ work tackles a woefully under-resourced and important sector. Most major infectious human diseases have animal  origins and up to 80 per cent of emerging infectious human diseases come from livestock or wild animals, yet Africa currently has the least capacity to survey major livestock or wildlife diseases. Livestock provide a vital source of nutrition, financial security and status in the continent, but livestock production is severely limited by disease. Many of the world’s worst livestock diseases, such as Foot and Mouth disease, are indigenous to Africa.

 

The Wellcome Trust grant will provide funds for SACIDS to:

 

  • Develop and deliver new MSc courses in critical areas of Molecular Biology and Epidemiology

  • Develop biosafety systems and quality management in laboratories

  • Develop continuing professional development to upgrade skills

  • Develop a secure internet-based technology platform for partners to share resources

  • Enhance ICT support to distance learning

  • Provide research apprenticeships with ‘smart partners’ institutions, namely RVC and LSHTM
Combining medical and veterinary expertise
Professor Mark Rweyemamu, Executive Director of SACIDS, Professor at Sokoine University and a Visiting Professor at RVC, stressed the necessity of the SACIDS initiative. He said:
“The ‘one health’ collaboration between medical and veterinary sectors helps us to focus our common resources to study the shared problem of infectious disease. The ‘smart partnership’ between SACIDS and the LIDC colleges will marshal the best science expertise to the study of infectious diseases in the endemic setting and to identify new and emerging diseases early”. Professor Jeff Waage, Director of LIDC, said: “LIDC’s member institutions are excited at the prospect of  building a ‘one health’ platform for research and training with SACIDS members in Africa.”

 

SACIDS has also won financial backing for analysis of national preparedness for disease outbreaks across the human and animal health sectors from the Rockefeller Foundation, on which LIDC will also assist. The SACIDS secretariat is funded with money from Google.org.

 

LIDC’s partnership with SACIDS is part of its larger effort to break down barriers between agriculture and health research to encourage an integrated approach to complex international development problems.