Deadline: 31 January 2024
They emphasise that they are looking for visionary consortia which will develop their own programmes of relevant research work. The proposed activities can be along the continuum of basic-translational-clinical applied-implementation-operational research and policy engagement.
- Vaccinology/early-stage vaccine research for epidemic- and pandemic-prone infections
- Increasing African independent capability in vaccine research and development is a critical priority given the limited development of vaccines for neglected diseases and populations, and the failure of equity in global access to vaccines. This research theme in academic vaccinology could complement other emerging initiatives in vaccine development and production within Africa by undertaking early-stage R&D on vaccine candidates for African population needs and building the academic workforce.
- Virology – genotype to phenotype
- Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many initiatives to increase and scale genomic pathogen surveillance and identify new ‘variants’ as they emerge, it remains challenging to understand how a particular genetic code translates into the behaviour (the phenotype) of a virus. In many countries, research capabilities to ‘phenotype’ viruses are limited. A programme of research in this area could seek to provide new insights into genetic determinants of viral behaviour and catalyse development of viral phenotyping capabilities on the African continent.
- Clinical research and clinical trials on epidemic and pandemic prone infections
- High-quality clinical trials are the cornerstone of evidence-based medicine. However, most trials are led by and conducted in high-income countries. Many clinical trials are poorly designed and fail to generate actionable evidence. Innovations during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that streamlined ‘point-of-care’ trials can produce reliable results that change practice at lower costs. This research theme could seek to answer an important question about clinical care for an infectious disease whilst simultaneously strengthening the ecosystem for the design and conduct of high-quality, streamlined, and regulatorily compliant Africa-led clinical trials.
- Epidemic and pandemic public health policy research
- Vaccines only became available around one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and in some areas were never accessible at scale. In future epidemics and pandemics, vaccines may be more difficult (or even impossible) to develop. Although certain public health measures – such as test, trace and isolate, social distancing, and lockdowns – were instrumental during the pandemic, their implementation was informed by a weak evidence base. These interventions may have had a profound and long-lasting negative social and economic impact across Africa. This research theme could, for example, assess the effectiveness, acceptability and affordability of public health measures for epidemic or pandemic control on the African continent, evaluate policy making processes, or explore more ‘intelligent’ application of layered public health interventions that strengthen systems for readiness, recovery and resilience.
- Climate change, biodiversity and pandemic prevention
- Seventy five percent of all emerging infectious diseases that affect humans originate from animals. It is widely accepted – and evidence shows – that the rate of infectious disease emergence is increasing because of the intersection of significant changes in multiple drivers such as human population density and connectivity, ecological disruption, habitat encroachment, and climate change. This thematic area may draw upon ‘One Health’ and/or climate science approaches to provide new insights into an existing or emergent zoonotic threat to human health and its mitigation, whilst simultaneously strengthening relevant African research capabilities.
- Advanced data assembly and analytics for threat assessment and mitigation
- Understanding and reducing uncertainty, a defining characteristic of the early stages of all epidemics and pandemics, is key to guiding critical policy decisions. There are numerous data and information domains where data capture, processing and analytics, data integration, and data presentation can be improved. Evolving tools such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and advanced statistical and mathematical modelling offer opportunities to significantly improve signal detection, situational awareness, and epidemic dynamic analysis to provide improved intelligence for decision-making. This research theme could seek to develop, evaluate, and apply cutting-edge data methods and tools to increase the quality and speed of epidemic threat assessments and the provision of evidence for mitigation, whilst increasing African capabilities in this rapidly evolving field.
- Social and behavioural sciences
- Epidemics and pandemics start and finish in communities. The COVID-19 pandemic was, and continues to be, a ‘case study’ in the vital importance of understanding and addressing different perspectives and of involving communities in co-developing solutions. Social and behavioural sciences have, however, been a relatively neglected area of research to date. This research theme could, for example, advance understanding of the social and behavioural dynamics affecting, and affected by, epidemics and pandemics, aiming to define best practices and collective actions for engaging with and involving the public and communities in preparedness and response.
About EPSILON initiatives
- The primary location of proposed EPSILON initiatives must be in Africa, and preliminary applications are invited from universities and research institutions based across the continent. Institutions outside Africa are invited to collaborate on applications led by an African institution. Applications are particularly encouraged from consortia whose component institutions:
- Strongly support and commit to safeguarding.
- Foster diverse workplaces and environments.
- Balance scientific excellence with equity (disciplines, sectors, regions, institutional capacity) when selecting partner and collaborating institutions and in their recruitment of staff and students.
- Demonstrate policies to achieve value for money, manage risk, and build strong research cultures and environments.
- Lead applicants can lead only one application but may be co-applicants in several applications. Lead applicants must be based at an eligible organisation and must fulfill the following conditions:
- Hold an academic or research post;
- Have a salary, or
- the guarantee of a salary, for the duration of the award period, or
- be required by their contract of employment to have a salary.
For more information, visit Science for Africa Foundation.