Promoting Research in Africa

05 April 2017

Promoting Research in Africa
Written by Dr Pim Kuipers

The Leprosy Mission has been involved in research to some degree since its inception in 1874, always asking questions and seeking solutions to problems. Our programmes in Bangladesh, India and Nepal are known the world over for the high quality research conducted there, much of which has changed the way that we manage leprosy over the years. Research always seems to be an unfinished business. Read more about our research work.

Research is one of our strategic priorities and so we seek opportunities for building capacity in research. One of these opportunities is the Leprosy Research Initiative

The Leprosy Research Initiative is a venture that The Leprosy Mission is part of, in partnership with American Leprosy Missions, effect:hope, German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association (GLRA) and Netherlands Leprosy Relief. Guided by an allied policy with clearly defined research priorities, we have established a joint fund to support leprosy research and a mechanism to access external funding.

The Leprosy Mission is not only a funder of LRI, but we have also been successful in accessing research funds from the LRI over the past three years.

But the Leprosy Research Initiative not only funds research projects, it also seeks to promote leprosy research widely and build the research workforce.

Focus on Africa
We have noted over recent years that we have had proportionally fewer proposals from Africa. In order to encourage and promote research in Africa, the Leprosy Research Initiative has funded an initiative led by Dr Paul Saunderson (TLM’s Director for Research) to train and mentor some teams from African countries where there is a strong leprosy community and where ILEP (International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations) members are active. We specifically focused on operational research (based on questions that come from and are closely related to leprosy services on the ground).

Calls for ideas from service providers across Africa were met with considerable interest. Four teams were selected for this initial workshop - from Cameroon, Liberia, Uganda and Mozambique. Each team comprised four people and were mostly collaborations of service providers, university staff and national health department staff.

They met in Addis Ababa in February 2017 for a week of training and working with mentors (experienced researchers from across the ILEP Federation). Over the week, each team and mentor worked on conceptualising, developing and writing the first draft of a "Letter of Intent" intended for submission in the current round of LRI funding.

The training was very practical - each team did the work necessary to submit a letter of intent - including planning and budgeting their research ideas. They also had to nominate at least one local mentor - an experienced researcher in their country, who can work with them on their project.

We will have to wait and see whether these letters of intent are successful, but the training and mentoring initiative has already served to stimulate considerable interest in leprosy research across Africa, and may be a good basis for further capacity building.

Dr Pim Kuipers is a psychologist by profession, but has spent most of his working life in health services research. A staff member of Griffith University, Australia (doing research on ways to improve rehabilitation as well as supporting allied health professionals to be involved in research), Pim mostly works for the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) as project coordinator, assisting with establishing some major initiatives within ILEP. Pim is a member of the TLM International Research Committee and is TLM’s representative on the Leprosy Research Initiative steering committee.