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A multi-million rand programme to fund research and innovation initiatives in Africa was launched last week under the Horizon Europe programme. The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the European Union (EU) hosted a virtual event last Friday, 16 July 2021.

The launch event for Horizon Europe in South Africa, with a specific focus on South African stakeholders, informed the scientific community of the programmes and calls under the Africa Initiative: the work programme of Horizon Europe for 2021 2022, for targeted actions within the continent.

The Horizon Europe 2021-2022 work programme, which targets actions with key non-European Union (EU) partners and has a budget of approximately €350 million, includes about 40 topics that are particularly relevant for cooperation with Africa, focusing on public health, innovation and technology, and science capacity, among other areas.

The launch event was also a platform to delve more into the role of research and innovation activities and policies which is becoming increasingly urgent in addressing Africa and Europe’s shared challenges – the need to promote sustainable growth and employment, the transition to a green economy, digital transformation, mobility, security and good governance and currently, crucially, a pandemic.

The event took place online, and its objective was to promote the participation and engagement of researchers, academicians and entrepreneurs in Horizon Europe projects.

Presentations were given by the Research and Innovation Directorate General of the European Commission, policy makers in the Department of Science and Innovation of South Africa , as well as from South African scientists with previous participation in European R&I programmes guided applicants through the political vision, funding instruments and main topics of the Horizon Europe programmes.

Academic and research institutions, public and private stakeholders were also invited to join this event, taking into account the commencement of the first calls for proposals. The moderators of the event were Dr Piero Venturi, EU Science Counsellor to the African Union and Ms Vinny Pillay, SA Science Counsellor to the European Union.

Other speakers included Dalibor Drljaca, Programme Officer Euraxess Africa, Ntombi Mchuba, Assistant Director, DSI, ESASTAP Presentation on Support Services and the Deputy Director-General: International Cooperation and Resources, Daan du Toit, to name but a few.

Professor Keolebogile Shirley Motaung of the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and Prof Benedicta Nkeh-Chungag of the Walter Sisulu University shared the results of their research on SARS-CoV-2 infection in HIV-positive patients with or without antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Prof Nkeh-Chungag presented their findings focusing on the definition of what SARS-CoV-2 is, whether HIV therapy can protect against SARS-CoV-2 and how could SARS-CoV-2 affect the risk for CVDs? She also shared more on the first case of SARS-CoV-2/HIV co-infection of a 61-year-old Wuhu man in January 2020, as well as on other patients recorded in Spain (51) and Italy (47).
“It became very clear that SARS-CoV-2 and HIV co-infection were possible and the ART might not be protective,” she said.

She relayed that to help answer some of the questions posed the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), a public-public partnership between countries in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, supported by the European Union. It launched a call for funding through a consortium of at least three independent legal entities: 2 European states and at least one sub-Saharan country.

She further said that the Consortium leader, Prof Nandu Goswami from the Medical University of Graz-Austria, took up the challenge of drawing a team of experts around the project.
Prof Nkeh-Chungag relayed further the names of the Sub-Saharan members and the independent project leaders which include herself, Prof Shirley Motaung from DUT, South Africa and Prof Simiat Elias from the University of Lagos in Nigeria.

She also names the European Consortium members and independent project leaders which include Prof Per Morten Federiksen from the Christiania University College, Norway, Prof Knut Lundin from the University of Oslo, Norway and Prof Nandu Goswami from the Medical University of Graz-Austria. Prof Nkeh-Chungag also spoke of the eight Consortium member-research partners.

Adding to the presentation talk, Prof Motaung spoke on the broad project objectives which are to assess prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in people living with HIV (PLWH) admitted in the outpatient clinics of two Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries: South Africa and Nigeria.

“To assess the impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection on vascular parameters and biomarkers; assess the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 and the severity of cardiovascular diseases in patients; assess the effect of antiretroviral therapy (ART) on the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection in PLWH as well as to assess the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection on vascular function and coagulation during infection and recovery,” she said.

She then relayed more on the synergies in the project team and spoke on the impact of the study in relation to contributions to the knowledge base SARS-CoV-2 infection in Sub-Saharan populations, human capital development-especially with regards to the training of the postgraduate students.

Prof Motaung also spoke on the intellectual cross-pollination which entails scientific exchange visits, joint supervision of postgraduate students, joint mentorship of emerging researchers, joint publications, promotion of collaborative research culture; increased visibility of African universities on the international scientific landscape and commercialisation.

She then provided feedback on the current status of the study, saying that the academic papers were accepted for publication, all equipment were procured, training had taken place and data collection had begun.

Prof Motaung in her closing remark, thanked DSI for funding the project, ECDTP for reviewing and approving the research project, Walter Sisulu University (WSU ) for their research support and DUT for their sterling research support as well.

Various international speakers continued with their presentations pertaining to green energy, the UNTANGLED project which aids to create opportunities but also pose profound socio-economic challenges that still must be fully understood and addressed.

There was a presentation on EURAXESS which is a unique Pan-European initiative delivering information and support services to professional researchers. There was also a presentation on ESASTAP, which is a collaborative initiative between South Africa and the European Union with its main objective to strengthen views within the field of science, technology and Innovation.

The attendees also got more insight into DSI which seeks to boost socio-economic development in South Africa through research and innovation. The event concluded with a question and answer session.

Pictured: Prof Keolebogile Shirley Motaung of the Durban University of Technology (DUT).

European Commission/Veronica Mohapeloa/Waheeda Peters

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