Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) is delighted to announce a R1.6-billion ($90.9m) award from Wellcome Trust.

The seven-year grant will support AHRI’s pioneering scientific research toward achieving its vision, which is the optimal health and well-being of under-resourced populations.

Located at the heart of the global HIV/TB co-epidemics in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), AHRI’s research focuses on understanding and responding to diseases that are the major causes of illness and death in South Africa. This includes HIV; tuberculosis (TB); emerging infections – such as Covid-19 – and neglected infections – such as hepatitis B; and adolescent mental health.

The R1.6-billion Wellcome grant will enable AHRI to expand its research over the next seven years to address key questions, including:

  • How can HIV be prevented in rural communities?
  • How can HIV be cured?
  • How can TB spread be prevented in rural communities?
  • Do new vaccines prevent TB disease?
  • How can new infections such as Covid-19 be identified early and controlled?
  • How can mental health disorders in rural adolescents best be treated?

The grant will also support AHRI in its mission to train the next generation of African scientists.

AHRI is uniquely positioned to respond to these urgent health challenges. Twenty-eight faculty members drive the institute’s cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research.  AHRI hosts a world-leading health and demographic surveillance system (HDSS) in rural northern KZN, and its laboratories are among the most sophisticated in Africa. The institute’s dedicated clinical trials unit tests new vaccines and drugs, while implementation trials are used to find the best ways to bring health innovations to people. AHRI’s research is coupled with excellent public engagement and extensive collaboration within local and international networks.

“This grant is a vote of confidence in our ability to produce excellent scientific research, with demonstrable impact,” said Professor Willem Hanekom, AHRI executive director. “We believe our broad research value chain, from population to basic sciences, and strong collaborations with communities and other research stakeholders place us in a unique position to address some of the most pressing health challenges facing under-resourced populations globally.”

“AHRI is extremely well-positioned to lead world-class research into long-standing threats such as TB and HIV, and is also advancing research into newer, but no less significant, challenges such as Covid-19 and adolescent mental health. AHRI brings together scientific expertise across a diverse range of research fields, coupled with strong links to local communities. Wellcome is proud to continue to partner with AHRI to support outstanding African-led science, working to improve health outcomes for communities in South Africa and across Africa,” said Cheryl Moore, chief research programmes officer at Wellcome.

“AHRI is a significant partner for UCL in Africa. Our shared commitment to excellence allows for robust academic exchange and opens new avenues for translating research into tools and therapies to benefit the health of under-resourced populations. Wellcome’s funding for an additional seven years adds a new chapter of sustainability and progress to our journey,” said Professor Mark Emberton, Dean, UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences.