Strengthening African leadership in the new EU-Africa global health research partnerships
The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise (the Enterprise) welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback on the European Commission (EC) inception impact assessment (Ares (2019) 4972489).
The Enterprise, part of the International AIDS Society (IAS), aims to support stakeholders in Africa and globally to share knowledge, foster collaboration, and enable solutions towards the creation of effective partnerships, which are critical to the development of—and future access to—an HIV vaccine.
The Enterprise welcomes the European Union (EU) commitment to increase health security in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, building on the current partnership between the EU, its Member States and sub-Saharan countries. These partnerships are essential for facilitating research, developing and improving health technologies, which in turn contributes to reducing the burden of infectious diseases.
The success of the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) 1 and 2 programmes in building and conducting clinical research in Africa is broadly recognized. Notably, the clinical evaluation of candidate HIV vaccines has been driven by partnerships that include and, in many cases, are led by African researchers.
Future partnerships must be flexible, responsive and involve African communities (research, civil society, political and others) from their inception. They will also have to appeal to the pharmaceutical industry since later stages of product development will require increased resources and increased participation by the private sector.
New partnerships should demonstrate their uniqueness, as well as how they complement existing global initiatives. They should be driven by a scientific agenda focusing on infectious diseases most relevant to sub-Saharan Africa and should be adapted to the problems they try to solve or the situations they aim to improve.
The selected partnership model should also provide for different funding schemes, not limited to large consortiums, that also support early-stage investigators in a sustainable way (such as through fellowships) and small partnerships that are able to quickly develop innovative solutions that can be tested or implemented by a larger consortium.
Schemes should avoid barriers to the creation of partnerships, especially geographical barriers; providing access to non-EU member applicants will broaden the pool of skills and resources available. Co-funding contribution should emphasise leveraging existing resources, skills, facilities and knowledge.
Selection criteria should: consider proposals that build on existing networks and structures; favour partnerships with specific, identifiable and measurable benefits for the countries and populations in which the programmatic action is conducted; include policy for data, reagents and knowledge sharing; plan and determine strategy going beyond innovation; ensure equal rights between partners; and consider implementation, health systems capacity and changes required for full benefit realization.
It is important to acknowledge that health innovation can also be hampered by discriminative and repressive laws, which are obstacles to full benefit realization. It is therefore essential to secure the political commitment of Members States to address structural and societal obstacles in order to deliver on the promises of health innovation.
Successful clinical research outcomes are only the beginning. Ensuring access will require greater involvement of country policy makers and support from the EC and other players.
The best option for future EU-Africa global health research partnerships should prioritize African leadership and ensure benefits are shared among all those involved in increasing health security in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.