The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced 76 grants of US$100,000 each to pursue ideas for transforming health in developing countries.
The announcement, made in Arusha, Tanzania, aims at empowering young and upcoming researchers pursue innovative ideas that would lead to effective and affordable medicines for the world’s poorest people who have difficulty accessing treatment.
The grants, under a programme known as Grand Challenges Exploration, support researchers across 16 countries, including nine in Europe and Africa with ideas as diverse as using the power of sunlight to kill malaria-causing mosquito larvae and developing a device that repels mosquitoes without insecticides.
“Some of the biggest stumbling blocks in global health are now being overcome with promising new vaccines and treatments,” said Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program.
“Grand Challenges Explorations will continue to fill the pipeline with possibilities and hopefully produce a breakthrough idea that could save untold numbers of lives.”
This year’s winners included Elijah Songok from the Kenya Medical Research Institute. His research is within the category “Create new ways to prevent or cure HIV infection” and he hopes to better understand preliminary findings from studies of sex workers that natural resistance to HIV may be linked to genetic markers for type 2 diabetes.
Mr Fredros Okumu of Ifakara Health Institute, a Kenyan based in Tanzania, is another winner. His research is within the “Create new tools to accelerate the eradication of malaria” category.
As malaria-transmitting mosquitoes spend a greater part of their lives outside human dwellings than inside, Mr Okumu is looking to fabricate outdoor decoy sites to attract and trap breeding, resting and feeding mosquitoes.
They will then develop a location model to guide optimal placement of the devices, and conduct a village trial to test the efficacy of the decoys in reducing malaria transmission.
Jackie Obey from the University of Eastern Africa in Kenya, through the grant, will test the effectiveness of a test tube kit to indicate the presence of a protein released by the malaria parasite.
Another grantee, Peter Lubega Yiga of AdhocWorks Foundation in South Africa will test the efficacy of a fermentation-based household mosquito repellent whereas Margaret Njoroge of Med Biotech Laboratories in Uganda will develop an intranasal vaccine for mothers, designed to induce antibodies against malaria in breast milk and confer immunity on their babies.
The announcements at the Arusha International Conference Centre marks the third round of the foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative to expand the pipeline of ideas for improving global health.
To date, 262 researchers representing 30 countries have been awarded Grand Challenges Explorations grants.
Recognizing that great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, in 2008 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched Grand Challenges Explorations, a $100 million programme to encourage even bolder and less conventional solutions.
Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of $1 million or more, and could eventually evolve into Grand Challenges project.
According to Dr Yamada, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “recognises that solving our greatest global health issues is a long-term effort. Through Grand Challenges in Global Health, the Foundation is committed to seeking out and rewarding not only established researchers in science and technology, but also young investigators, entrepreneurs and innovators to help expand the pipeline of ideas to fight diseases that claim millions of lives each year.”
Grantees from round 3 were selected from almost 3,000 proposals. All levels of scientists are represented – from young post-graduate investigators to veteran researchers – as are a wide range of disciplines, such as chemistry, bioengineering, electronics, mechanical engineering, infectious disease, and epidemiology.
This year’s European and African grantees are based at universities, research institutes, non-profit organisations, and private companies in Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.
Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year, $100 million initiative to promote innovation in global health. It is part of the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which is supported by the Gates Foundation to achieve major breakthroughs in global health.
Dr Yamada said they will ensure that any product from the innovations being funded would be affordable to the poor.
“We pay close attention to discovery, development and delivery of medicines. This is the only way we can ensure universal access to treatment.”
He regretted that most drugs in Sub-Saharan Africa is in the hands of private sector which in turn sell to public health institutions at higher prices. To address this, he said, the Foundation is seeking partnerships with private companies such as Coca-Cola with large distribution networks to deliver drugs to every village.
“There is no reason why any group of people should not access healthcare services. This is why we are pursuing technology-based healthcare solutions,” Dr Yamada explained.
The Grand Challenges event was held alongside the Keystone Symposium on Global Health Series titled ‘Overcoming the Crisis of Tuberculosis and Aids.’
Tuberculosis is the largest cause of death in the Aids setting, having caused approximately 50 per cent of all Aids deaths globally.
The focus of the Keystone Symposia meeting, which ended Sunday, is to gain deeper insights into the immune pathology and deadly synergism between HIV and TB and its global toll in order to identify new ways to solve this global catastrophe by way of basic scientific discovery, and the development and delivery of vaccines, drugs and care.
Hassan Mshinda, director-general of Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, said global warming had resulted in an upsurge of malaria in areas that were safe from the disease.
“Climate change has altered malaria prevalence in Tanzania and other countries in the region. We have witnessed lowered temperatures in areas that were cold a few years ago,” Dr Mshinda said.