South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
Building a healthy nation through research and innovation

Media Release

7 October 2014

South Africa Commits to Innovation by Making New Investment in Breakthrough Science to Help Women and Children

Country joins a consortium of partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Brazil, Canada, India, South Africa and the United States to fund a new phase of Grand Challenge initiatives
Cape Town, 7 October 2014 – The South African Medical Research Council announced it would partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other international partners to fund African researchers and innovators to create new tools and approaches to help women and children.

The announcement came at an event in Seattle, Washington commemorating the tenth anniversary of Grand Challenges, a family of grant initiatives focused on overcoming persistent bottlenecks to create new tools that can radically improve health in the developing world.

“The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), as the custodian of health research in South Africa, will lead the “Grand Challenges South Africa” whose goal it is to impact on the plight of women and children on our continent” says the MRC president Glenda Gray. “Women are the backbone of African society and we need to invest in research that prevents them from dying in child-birth. All infants born deserve to live, and we will invest heavily in research that secures their safe passage during the birth process”.

The SAMRC will be seeking to fund research that addresses interventions to prevent death and disability in the neonatal period as well as interventions that lead to the reduction in mortality during pregnancy, childbirth and the early post-partum period. The SAMRC will fund research into diagnostics, devices and clinical interventions that will lead to reductions in neonatal deaths and maternal mortality and may include areas of research such as post partum haemorrhage, hypertension and gestational diabetes.
Grand Challenges South Africa will be hosted within the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) unit at the SAMRC who in January signed a major collaborative partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the area of TB and HIV translational sciences. The South African funding will be provided by the SAMRC and the Department of Science and Technology.

"South Africa greatly values its multiple partnerships with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to harness the powerful potential of science and technology to fight poverty and improve the quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens” says the South African Minister of Science and Technology, Minister Naledi Pandor. “The South Africa Grand Challenges programme is a strategic opportunity to enhance this cooperation and the Department of Science and Technology is committed to being an active partner."

“With today’s commitments, South Africa is bringing world-class expertise and resources to some of the toughest health challenges in the world,” said Trevor Mundel, President of Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We are immensely excited to welcome South Africa to the Grand Challenges family.”

South Africa joins a group of international partners announcing three new initiatives aimed at creating potential breakthroughs in science:

  • All Children Thriving – focusing on developing new tools and holistic approaches to help mothers and children thrive in the developing world  by ensuring a healthy birth for both mother and child and setting children on a path to healthy physical growth and cognitive development.  All Children Thriving includes new initiatives and commitments from Grand Challenges Canada (Saving Brains), USAID (Saving Lives at Birth), Grand Challenges Brazil, Grand Challenges India, Grand Challenges South Africa and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Putting Women and Girls in the Center of Development - focusing on a rigorous understanding of  women’s and girls’ needs and preferences and gender inequalities and supporting new approaches to promote women’s and girls’ empowerment that will enhance the ability to achieve multiple health and development goals.
  • Creating New Interventions for Global Health – focusing on accelerating the translation of original and innovative concepts for vaccines, drugs and diagnostics into safe, effective, affordable and widely used interventions for diseases in the developing world.

Ongoing research under the original Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative includes promising projects that are speeding the development of new vaccines and strategies to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; new approaches to vector control and a new class of point-of-care diagnostics.

The meeting, attended by scientists and researchers from around the world, celebrates more than a decade of progress since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s launch of the initial Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. This original US$450 million research initiative was created to catalyze scientific and technological innovation to achieve major breakthroughs in global health.

Perhaps just as important as the new challenges is the growing network of funders that are adapting the Grand Challenges approach to accelerate research. Today there is a broad family of Grand Challenges grant programs guided by a shared approach and set of principles. This includes issue-specific programs, such as Saving Brains and Saving Lives at Birth, as well as accelerated, small-scale grant-making programs such as Grand Challenges Explorations and Stars in Global Health, which complement the larger grants with seed funding for projects that target a range of health indicators.

Several other countries are also issuing country- or region-specific challenges under the All Children Thriving umbrella. Both Brazil (through its Ministry of Health and National Council for Scientific and Technological Development) and India (through its Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council) are leveraging their deep pools of scientific talent by issuing challenges open to researchers from their respective countries. Much as South Africa is doing, these challenges will engage local and regional investigators with firsthand experience of the global health and development problems Grand Challenges seeks to solve.

Through investments in high-risk, high-reward research, the next phase of Grand Challenges seeks bold solutions and strategies to address some of the most pressing global health and development issues of our time.

About the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
The SAMRC aims to build a healthy nation through research. Its mission is to improve the nation's health and quality of life through promoting and conducting relevant and responsive health research. The SAMRC has just undergone a major revitalization and is embarking on a new strategy to drive impact and innovation in Africa. With a traditional focus on communicable diseases, the SAMRC is seeking to build additional core competencies in the non-communicable disease domain as well as maternal and child health areas.
Grand Challenges
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving the most pressing challenges in global health and development requires more of the world’s brightest minds working on them. The Grand Challenges family of initiatives seeks to engage innovators from around the world to solve these challenges. Grand Challenges initiatives are united by their focus on fostering innovation, directing research to where it will have the most impact, and serving those most in need.

Grand Challenges Explorations:
In addition to these new larger challenge programs, we and other funders continue to support small-scale grant-making programs such as Grand Challenges Explorations and Stars in Global Health, which complement the larger grants with seed funding for projects that target a range of health indicators.

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.


Enquiries: South Africa
Dr Richard Gordon
Strategic Health and Innovation Partnerships (SHIP)
Telephone: +27 21 938 0351
Mobile: +27 79 450 3641

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Keletso Ratsela
South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)          
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