African Union (AU) countries, in 2007, committed to investing at least 1% of Gross domestic product (GDP) to Research and Development. 12 years later, this goal remains unrealized. Currently, the continent invests only 0.4% of the GDP to research and the continent has the least share of global health researchers.

The continent now hopes to change that through a five-year initiative that will train at least 1 500 African researchers.

From the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaria, HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis in other parts of the continent; Africa is not short of health challenges.  Yet, solutions to some of these challenges have been hard or slow to come from the continent due to lack of funding and an environment conducive to conduct research.

Deputy Director of the African Academy of Sciences, Alphonsus Neba, says there are less than 200 scientists per one million people in Africa. “There is a particular metric if you want to count the number of scientists per one million of the population. In places like the UK, that number is about 400 and 5000; in Africa, that number is less than 200.”

The African Academy of Sciences, the African Union, through AUDA-NEPAD, global charity Welcome Trust and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) have come together to implement DELTAS Africa, a $100 million program aimed at producing home-grown researchers who work on research relevant for Africa’s health challenges.

Neba says that the programme spreads across 56 institutions from 21 countries in Africa.

“So we are currently training 1 500 young Africans in the areas of health research. The programme spreads across 54 institutions from 21 countries on the continent.”

For years, Africa has been affected by an exodus of the best brains to Western nations, where resources and facilities for research are available. DELTAS Africa is attracting leading researchers back to Africa.

At least 20 diaspora researchers are back to the continent following the launch of the program.

This week, at a meeting in Dakar, Senegal, some of those researchers will be presenting some of their ground-breaking work in health research in Africa.

By highlighting the success of the DELTAS Africa first cohort, the AU hopes to encourage the private sector to invest in Research and Development on the continent.