PANTHER brings together leading African and global researchers and public health teams, who will work together through regional hubs to help countries and communities to better prepare, pounce, and bounce back, before emerging infectious diseases become pandemics. Ready-made, disease specific research kits and no regrets-investment will be key for these risky hot-spots.
‘To not prepare for outbreaks is to prepare for failure – if we want to adapt research, diagnostics and medicines to our needs, Africa needs take the lead now,’ said Dr Samba Sow, Director General at the Centre for Vaccine Development, Mali and Chair of the Pandemic Preparedness Platform for Health and Emerging Infection Response (PANTHER).
Though Africa makes up 15% of the world’s population and 25% of global disease burden, in 2016 it accounted for just 1.1% of global research and development spending; of this, two-thirds was focused in just three countries: Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa.
‘COVID was a stark reminder of why Africa needs to be self-reliant and to invest in research capacity, better infrastructure and surveillance, so we can react fast, with adapted solutions in rural or remote primary health care areas,’ said Dr Mahlet Kifle Habtemariam, Senior Regional Engagement Advisor, Africa CDC and PANTHER board member.
To help bridge the gap, PANTHER will focus on emerging disease hotspots and at-risk communities, while working closely with Africa CDC and the New Public Health Order, with WHO, ministries of health, and at-risk communities. PANTHER will create a network of equipped and trained researchers, combining experienced African research centres with healthcare sites, in both major cities and more remote areas.
PANTHER hubs will target key Africa CDC and WHO hot spot diseases like Lassa Fever and Killer Flu, with a two-pronged, parallel Map and Engage Approach: mapping the innovators and developers per target disease; and engaging and aligning key stakeholders, including health workers and communities, before diseases break out; to be better prepared to then develop, deploy, and deliver in emergencies, together.
In COVID months of precious time was wasted reinventing basic R&D tools like clinical trial protocols or legal and research contracts. Too often, potential drug candidates stay on a shelf until needed, as research and development processes, including clinical trials, can take years. Too late for outbreaks and pandemics.
‘PANTHER will go where early cases of target diseases are, with 80% ready-made Emergency Research Kits, which can be rapidly adapted to the specific local and immunity/ disease needs. So instead of traveling 300-600 km with samples, we can test on the spot, share and assess the results, then move safely and rapidly onto clinical trials, save lives,’ said Dr Nathalie Strub-Wourgaft, General Delegate of PANTHER.
Africa needs sustained, ‘no-regrets’ investment to strengthen research and pandemic response to pounce on the source of the disease, in at-risk areas, especially in remote or rural regions, even if the outbreaks may never happen. A key challenge for Africa is that most funding still comes from abroad. A Kenyan study found of the top 15 funders for COVID research, only three are African – all from South Africa. Yet Africa makes up 15% of the world’s population and 25% of global disease burden, in 2016 it made up just 1.1% of global R&D spending, of this, 65.7%, was focused in just three countries: Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa.
Photo credit: Lameck Ododo-DNDi