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The State of Research Institutions in Africa


Africa is experiencing a significant transformation in its research and development landscape. Recent years have witnessed a surge in scientific advancements, catapulting the continent into a new era of innovation. Research institutions are growing strong and these developments are reshaping Africa’s academic world and significantly impacting everyday life.

The advancements are more than academic triumphs; they represent a growing commitment to research, showcasing Africa’s potential in offering solutions to both local and global challenges. Despite facing hurdles, the progress underscores the resilience and promise of African researchers and institutions. This article explores these milestones, challenges, and the exciting potential ahead.

Current State of Research Funding and Development in Africa

African research institutions are facing a significant challenge with funding. Public investment in research remains notably low. In fact, research funding across the continent averages only around 0.42% of GDP, which is well below the African Union’s recommended 1% and much lower than the global average of 1.7%[1]. This disparity highlights a critical gap in the resources necessary for scientific advancement.

However, there are promising developments. The African Development Bank has taken a pivotal step by establishing the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation [1]. This initiative represents a significant advancement in enhancing access to essential technologies for manufacturing medicines and vaccines. It aims to reduce Africa’s reliance on imported pharmaceuticals, fostering a more self-reliant and robust healthcare sector.

This development signals a potential shift towards stronger support for research and development. It is a critical effort to bridge the funding gap and stimulate the growth of indigenous technological capabilities within Africa.

Advancements in Health Research and Genomics

Recent breakthroughs in health research in Africa, particularly in genomics, are reshaping our understanding and approach to healthcare. A key player in this field is the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative. Launched in 2010, this initiative focuses on unraveling the genetic basis of diseases prevalent in African populations. H3Africa has made significant strides, establishing over 10 research centers and bioinformatics training programs, and publishing genomic data on more than 79,000 individuals [2]. These efforts are crucial in a continent where genetic diversity is vast, yet underrepresented in global genomic studies.

Another pivotal contributor is the Malaria Genomic Epidemiology Network. Through their Ag1000G project, they apply whole-genome sequencing to understand genetic variations in mosquito populations across Africa. This research is vital for malaria control, a disease that has a profound impact on the continent . Additionally, the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) has been instrumental in genomic research on diseases like Lassa fever, Ebola, and malaria. Remarkably, ACEGID was behind the sequencing of Africa’s first SARS-CoV-2 genome and the development of a rapid COVID-19 diagnostic test[2].

These initiatives illustrate Africa’s growing capacity in health research and genomics, offering new insights into disease prevention and treatment. They are crucial in a continent facing unique health challenges, proving that local research and expertise are vital to addressing these issues effectively.

Read more: The top 10 health research organizations in Africa

Private Sector Involvement and Innovation in Africa’s Biomedical Research

The private sector is playing an increasingly vital role in advancing biomedical research and genomics in Africa. Companies like BixBio and 54gene are at the forefront of this revolution. Based in Cape Town, BixBio is a biotech startup that develops genetic tools for precision medicine[2]. Their work, supported by funding such as the Illumina Accelerator program, is pivotal in advancing personalized medical solutions

54gene, a Nigeria-based startup, has raised significant funding to develop genomic tools specifically tailored for African populations. This company focuses on disease diagnosis, drug discovery, and clinical trials, addressing the underrepresentation of African genetics in global research . Their work is a game-changer, bridging a significant gap in the global medical research landscape[2].

These private sector ventures are not just business enterprises; they are collaborative efforts that contribute to groundbreaking medical research. By focusing on the unique genetic makeup of African populations, these companies are opening doors to more effective treatments and a better understanding of various diseases.

The involvement of these companies underscores the potential of private-public partnerships in accelerating medical breakthroughs in Africa. With their innovative approaches and cutting-edge technologies, the private sector is essential in driving the continent’s biomedical research forward, promising a future with more targeted and effective healthcare solutions for Africa and the world.

African Universities’ Achievements in Global Rankings

African universities have made remarkable strides in global academic rankings, reflecting their growing impact and recognition in the global academic community. A prime example is the University of Cape Town in South Africa, which has risen to the 160th position globally, marking its entry into the top 200 universities worldwide[3]. This achievement is a significant milestone, showcasing the university’s commitment to excellence in education and research.

Similarly, the University of Lagos has made impressive progress, breaking into the world’s top 500 universities. This leap forward highlights the university’s dedication to enhancing its academic standards and research output . Other notable institutions like Stellenbosch University and the University of the Witwatersrand have also been ranked in the 251-300 category, further underscoring the advances made by African universities[3].

These achievements have a profound impact on the global academic community. They signal the rising quality and competitiveness of African universities on the international stage. This recognition helps attract international students and scholars, fostering a more diverse and enriched learning environment. It also opens up opportunities for global research collaborations and partnerships, contributing to the advancement of knowledge and innovation worldwide.

The progress of African universities in global rankings is not just a regional success story; it’s a testament to the potential and resilience of the continent’s academic institutions. Their achievements pave the way for a more interconnected and collaborative global academic landscape.

Challenges and the Road Ahead for African Research Institutions

African research institutions face considerable infrastructural and regulatory challenges. Limited funding has resulted in inadequate facilities and a shortage of cutting-edge equipment, hindering the full potential of research activities. Additionally, regulatory hurdles often slow down the progress of scientific projects, creating a gap between research and its practical application.

The need for government support is paramount in this context. Increased funding and improved regulatory frameworks can significantly enhance the capabilities of research institutions. Governments can play a crucial role in building robust infrastructures, providing grants, and establishing policies that foster innovation and streamline research processes.

International collaboration is equally vital. Partnerships with global research entities can offer access to advanced technologies, expertise, and additional funding sources. These collaborations can also facilitate the exchange of ideas and best practices, contributing to the overall growth and quality of research in Africa.

To sustain and expand research capabilities, a concerted effort from both government and international partners is essential. Investing in research infrastructure, simplifying regulatory procedures, and encouraging global partnerships are key steps towards a brighter future for African research. This approach will not only bolster the continent’s research landscape but also contribute to addressing global scientific challenges.


The journey of research institutions in Africa, marked by remarkable advancements and persistent challenges, underscores a landscape brimming with potential. From the significant strides in global university rankings to groundbreaking health research like the malaria vaccine development, African institutions are increasingly becoming pivotal players in both continental and global scientific arenas.

The key takeaway from this exploration is the undeniable impact and necessity of continued research in Africa. The breakthroughs in genomics and the establishment of institutions like the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation highlight the continent’s growing capacity to address its unique challenges. Moreover, the significant progress made by universities such as the University of Cape Town and the University of Lagos in global rankings reflects an academic vigor that promises to contribute richly to the global knowledge pool.

However, these achievements are tempered by persistent funding and infrastructural challenges. It’s clear that sustained investment and support are crucial for the future growth of research in Africa. Enhanced government funding, improved regulatory environments, and increased international collaborations are vital in nurturing these research institutions.

The potential of African research institutions to address both local and global challenges is immense. With continued support and investment, there is no doubt that these institutions can drive significant advancements in various fields, contributing to the well-being and development of not just the African continent, but the world at large. The progress thus far is just the beginning of a promising journey towards a more innovative and resilient future.

References and Further Reading

[1]         P. Adepoju, “Africa’s future depends on government-funded R&D,” Nature Africa, Sep. 2022, doi: 10.1038/d44148-022-00134-4. Available: https://www.nature.com/articles/d44148-022-00134-4

[2]         Tochukwu Ozulumba, “Sustaining breakthroughs in health research in Africa,” Nature Africa. Accessed: Dec. 06, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.nature.com/articles/d44148-021-00124-y

[3]         Wachira Kigotho, “Number of ranked universities in Africa increases to 97,” University World News. Accessed: Dec. 06, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20221012131558818


  • Robertson Klaingar

    With over a decade of experience in the field of bioanalysis and medical laboratory science, Robertson Klaingar has developed an expertise in laboratory testing, data analysis, and biomedical research.

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