Propelling Health Research & Innovation in Africa through Africa’s Higher Education Institutions

Africa aspires to a future of quality health and excellent well-being. Sustainable Development Goal three (SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being) builds on this hope by providing guidance to ensure the attainment of this goal as the continent progresses toward sustainable and equitable health. To achieve this, African governments have made commitments through various initiatives to strengthen health care systems as well as build capacities for innovative research in addressing health-related challenges in the region. One of the core interventions is Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence- a World Bank initiative in collaboration with African governments to strengthen the capacity of universities to deliver quality education to address regional developmental challenges. Considering that health is one of the key sectors with challenges needing critical interventions, the ACE Project has health as one of its six priority areas. The aim is to enhance the capacity of the participating universities by providing the needed facilities and infrastructure to deliver quality training and applied research for an extension and transfer of knowledge and skills to other institutions within and outside the continent. Again, the  project seeks to promote locally skilled researchers and health professionals equipped with quality training within the region. 

There are 13 centres of excellence focusing on various aspects of health including cell biology and genomics of infectious diseases, tropical diseases, reproductive health, maternal and infant health, pharmaceutical science, and genetic and herbal medicines. The centres have played pivotal roles in leading transformative research contributing to managing critical health issues in the sub-region and continentally. The 13 centres of excellence promoting the innovative drive to scientific research in health are: Centre for Training, Research and Expertise in Drug Sciences  (CFOREM), University of Ouga; Centre for Bio-technological Innovation for the Elimination of Vector- Borne Diseases (CEA-ITECH_MTV)-both in Burkina Faso; West Africa Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) and West African Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC) both hosted by the University of Ghana; Centre of Excellence for the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases (ACE-PCMT, Guinea); African Centre of Excellence in Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University; Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology (ACENTDFB), Ahmadu Bello University; Reproductive Health Innovation (CERHI), University of Benin; Centre of Excellence for Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP); Centre for Mycotoxin and Food Safety (ACEMFS); Africa Centre of Excellence for Drug Research, Herbal Medicine Development and Regulatory Science (ACEDHARS); Centre of Excellence for Public Health and Toxicological Research (ACE-PUTOR, University of Port Harcourt)- all in Nigeria; Centre for Maternal and Infant Health (CEA-SAMEF, Senegal). 

Community Health Engagement  

Community engagement remains crucial to project implementation to deepen the impact of centres’ activities.  In line with this, some centres have successfully organized various community outreach programmes aimed at awareness creation on diseases as well as free medical screenings.  Notable among these social interventions include WACCBIP screenings for COVID-19, HIV and breast cancer for over 10,000 residents of Accra; Over 2,500 residents of the Akyem Abuakwa State, a suburb in the Eastern region of Ghana also benefitted from free health screening exercise (physical examination, mental health screening, etc.) conducted by WAGMC.

Partnerships and Collaborations

As strategic partnerships and collaborations hold significant potential to transform and strengthen centres’ goals in line with project implementation and sustainability, centres have forged valuable partnerships with other institutions, industries and inter-ACE networks. The African Centre of Excellence for Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP) has collaborated with the Kenya Nutritionists and Dieticians Institute (KNDI) and seven Kenya Universities (Maseno University, Pwani University, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Karatina University, Technical University of Kenya, and University of Eastern Africa) in the areas of teaching, research, community outreaches, training as well as staff and students exchanges. In addition, the partnership is geared toward partnership in finding lasting solutions to challenges in nutrition towards achieving the SDGs.

Regarding inter-ACE collaborations, the World Bank, AFD and the RFU in partnership with other institutions established the Inter-ACE Thematic Networks to foster collaborative research and learning among the ACEs in various thematic areas including agriculture, energy, and digital education, transport and logistics. Two of the eight Thematic Networks are focused on health.

The West African Network of Infectious Diseases ACEs (WANIDA) was created in 2020 to facilitate interactions, collaborations and networking among the infectious diseases ACEs, other health-related ACEs and non-ACE institutions in the sub-region to address the inadequacies of existing health systems across Africa for responding to significant public health threats. The participating centres are ACEGID, WACCBIP, ACE_PCMT, ACENTDFB, CEA-ITECH-MTV and ACEMFS.-+  With funding from the French Development Agency (AFD) and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), WANIDA seeks to: Promote greater cooperation between the participating institutions to pursue high-quality research and excellence in training; Develop mechanisms for sharing research resources and technical expertise; Develop sustainable research and training capacities at WANIDA partner and collaborating institutions; Build and maintain or strengthen existing ties with industry partners. As part of promoting high-quality postgraduate training and an enhanced capacity to deliver applied research, WANIDA launched a Master’s and PhD fellowship programme for the 2020/2021 academic year and planned for a conference among other key initiatives.

The Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health ACE Network (ReMCHAN) also seeks to improve the reproductive, maternal and child health indices through strategic partnerships, collaborative research, and capacity enhancement in Sub-Sahara Africa. The participating centres are ACEDHARS, ACEPHAP, ACEPUTOR, CEA SAMEF, CEA PCMT, CERHI. The Network’s activities have been focused on strengthening research coordination through collaborative efforts and joint publications as well as facilitating staff and students exchange. In addition, the first of the Network’s seven proposed webinar series was organized virtually on 26th April, 2022. The webinar, themed “The Role of Family Planning in Reducing Maternal and Child Mortality, and the Opportunity for Contraceptive Research and Development in Africa”. brought together key health stakeholders in both academia and industry as well as development partners. The webinar emphasized the need for Sub-Saharan Africa which still carries the burden of maternal and child mortality and morbidity to continue to develop policies and research to reduce these deaths. The need for research and development of new contraceptives methods for both females and males was also highlighted as well as available funding bodies for the promotion for research.

Grants and Awards

In recognition of leadership and contributions to addressing health issues on the continent and globally. Click here for the national and international awards won by some centre leaders:

  1. Prof. Lorna Awo Renner, Deputy Centre leader for WAGMC received the 2021 International Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award
  2. Prof. Diabate Abdoulaye, Centre Director for the African Center of Excellence in Biotechnology Innovation for Vector-borne Disease Elimination (CEA/ ITECH-MTV) also received the Newcomb Cleveland Prize for his outstanding research on fighting malaria in Africa.
  3. Prof. Christian Happi, Centre leader for ACEGID has received the 2020 Bailey K. Ashford Medal by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
  4. Prof. Gordon Awandare, Centre leader of WACCBIP received two awards from the University of Ghana during the College of Basic and Applied Sciences (CBAS) Meritorious Awards ceremony. One in recognition of his outstanding service to the College and University and another for his leadership in COVID-19 research to support the national response.

Centres have accessed competitive funds to further their research activities. ACEPHAP won a US$553,054 Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct an E-MOTIVE Trial (Early detection of postpartum haemorrhage and treatment) in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. CERHI in collaboration with ACEGID was awarded a Grant by the Nigerian government to validate Rapid Diagnostic Tests kits (RDT) for COVID-19 testing in Nigeria. Also, the West Africa Centre for Genetic Medicine (WAGMC) received a US$3 million Grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to sequence the whole genome DNA of children with sickle cell disease in Ghana.

Building capacities in Francophone Africa

Building capacities in Francophone Africa

A closer look at Guinea

A total of 26 francophone Africa Centers of Excellence are involved in the ACE Impact project and have been working to improve the quality, quantity, and development impact of postgraduate education in francophone Africa.  We focus our lenses on the African Center of Excellence for the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases (CEA -PCMT). Hosted by the Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry (UGANC) in Guinea, CEA-PCMT aims to sustainably improve the prevention and control of communicable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. Its objective is to establish at UGANC, a regional program of excellence in training and research on communicable diseases. The center was created in 2019 as part of the ACE Impact project and is offering world class training geared towards innovation and impacting society. This process involves public and private development actors at national, regional, and international levels to achieve its goals.


Programmes Offered

Broadly, the center offers short courses, masters, and doctoral programs on community health, global health and emerging diseases, primary health, quality assurance and research methodology among several other key programmes. In positioning itself as a regional reference center in the prevention and control of communicable diseases in West Africa, the center conducts applied research in partnership with national and international institutions. This applied research is in the following three main areas: Implementation science research, communicable disease surveillance and monitoring of antimicrobial resistance to drugs and products used in the fight against communicable diseases.


Regional and Global Partners

The African Center of Excellence for the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases prioritises building strong mutually beneficial partnerships in achieving its key targets.  It has partnerships with individuals and units from various higher education institutions including the following: the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; University of Montpellier; University of Sherbrooke; University of Ghana, Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp; and University of Sciences, Techniques and Technologies of Bamako (USTTB), Mali.


Center Leadership and Contact

Center Leader: Prof. Alexandre DELAMOU

Email address:

Deputy Center Leader: Dr. Mariame Sadjo DIALLO

Email address:


Regional approaches to tackling development challenges

Regional approaches to tackling development challenges

How ACE Impact Project is transforming Education and Research in Africa

The ACE Impact for Development Project is in its third year of implementation and has recorded notable successes in delivering high-quality training, competitive applied research, impactful industry/sector partnerships, mutually beneficial regional and international academic partnerships, and enhanced institutional governance and management of the participating universities.


As of November 2020, there were 10,817 masters and doctoral students enrolled across the 53 Centers, 24% of these being regional students. The number of female students across the centers reached 3,333, aligning with the project’s gender inclusion goal of at least 30% female students being trained at any point in time.

The results achieved by the centers are in harmony with the objective of improving the quality, quantity, and development impact of postgraduate education in participating universities through regional specialization and collaboration across West and Central Africa.

Eighty-two programmes being offered by the Centers are in the process of being internationally accredited, creating opportunities for increases in enrolment, as well as boosting the employability of graduates from the centers. Accreditation of programmes verifies if an institution meets or exceeds the minimum quality standards, making the courses and centers internationally competitive.


ACE Impact regional Approach

The ACE impact regional approach utilizes collaboration in training to meet the national level needs. For example, the centers hosted by the universities enrol students wishing to be trained in specific thematic areas from across the continent. In addition, the centers leverage the resident capacities in the region and beyond to support the training and supervision of the post-graduate students. Further to this, students are provided with internships and given the opportunity to complete them either in their home countries or regionally. This regional approach facilitates cross-fertilization of ideas and understanding of research problems from national, regional, and global perspectives.

Centers COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic presented opportunities for centers to cooperate, sharing knowledge and best practices nationally, regionally, and internationally with various partners through their contributions and experiences towards controlling the spread of this pandemic. Professor Christian Happi is a leading researcher at the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Nigeria. The center is in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and other research and public health partners, to implement a Sentinel project for an early warning system in Africa. The project combines genomics with advanced information technologies to transform infectious disease surveillance in real-time. An early warning that could save millions of lives.


Creating a Safe Learning Environment for Students

Along with attracting both national and regional students, meeting the required infrastructure standards, and ensuring the centers remain internationally competitive, creating safe learning spaces and environments is a top priority for ACE Impact. The project prioritizes the safety of all stakeholders involved, especially students, through the incorporation of sexual harassment policies and the development of grievance mechanisms systems. Each center of excellence, as part of the disbursements linked indicators, produced a comprehensive sexual harassment policy, as well as appointed a focal person/office responsible for monitoring and implementing the policy. The ACEs also engage students regularly on these policies and clarify to them how they can report any form of sexual harassment.

Additionally, the project appointed an expert in year 2020 to review all the anti-sexual harassment policies and provide feedback which the ACEs used to improve their policies where necessary. Webinars were also held by the Association of African Universities and the World Bank teams from January-March 2020 to raise awareness among the students and build capacities of all those involved.

Moving Forward

As the world adapts to our new digital and virtual reality, the regional approach has been applied to build the capacity of faculty with online teaching methods and technology. Capacity building workshops are being run virtually bringing in experts from Switzerland, Morocco and Senegal to facilitate the sessions. The ACE Impact faculty from the 11 countries converge virtually to participate.


Development challenges tackled by the ACEs

To contribute to job creation and poverty eradication, the centers conduct training programs for the surrounding communities as part of their outreach and community development. For example, the Centre for Dryland Agriculture (CDA) in Nigeria runs value chain training programs for youth and women from adjacent states. The practical and intensive training focuses on rice, fisheries, and poultry value chains for employment.


The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the Centers to respond to the health challenge posed by the pandemic. The Centers joined forces with their governments to contribute towards the control of the coronavirus. The ACEGID (African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases) and WACBIP (West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens) have been exemplary in conducting the genome sequencing of SARS COV-2 in Nigeria and Ghana. In this important work WACCI and ACEGID worked collaboratively with their governments, national research centers, and other national universities to produce impactful results. The genome sequencing is critical for diagnostics and vaccine development. The data emanating from genome sequencing is important for policy actions and national as well as regional responses.


Other Centers designed hand-washing devices, manufactured face masks and sanitizers, designed screening tools, led COVID19-related community awareness trainings, developed disease surveillance systems, and finally opened up their campuses to be the venues for COVID19 testing.


Partnerships/ Community engagement

The Centers are developing strategic and significant partnerships as part of their regional approach to training, research, and capacity development. The Africa Centre of Excellence in Coastal Resilience (ACECoR) hosted by the University of Cape Coast is working closely with local and international partners in the areas of research and capacity building towards an accelerated development of the coasts of West Africa and beyond. ACECoR is partnering with Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) at the University of Bremen, Germany to strengthen the scientific and technological community of practice with European partners from relevant marine disciplines for the co-design and co-production of knowledge that will engage with policymakers, businesses, industry, and other stakeholders within the coastal and marine sectors.

ACE for Impact Centers respond to COVID19


The life-threatening nature of the COVID19 pandemic has been felt globally – its influence on global education systems is also being felt in Africa. Activities in African higher education institutions (HEIs) were suspended by various governments in order to contain the spread of the virus. Many of these institutions are host universities of the Africa Centers of Excellence for Development Impact project (ACE Impact) and as a result, activities of these Centers were slowed down. However, as part of their objectives to address regional developmental challenges, the ACE Impact Centers initiated measures to support the containment and management of the virus in all 11 participating countries within the West African sub region.

What is an Africa Center of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE for Impact Center)

These are largely competitively selected faculties, schools or colleges within an African University. The ACE Impact Centers focus on STEM, Agriculture, Environment, Health and applied Social Sciences / Education thematic areas. As part of the ACE for Development Impact project they are mandated to deliver quality undergraduate and post-graduate programs, promote regional academic mobility, address national and regional problems through research and promote best practices to their entire university systems.

Challenges faced by the ACEs for Development Impact Centers

The Association of African Universities, which is the Regional Facilitation Unit for the ACE Impact project,  in collaboration with the World Bank conducted a survey to understand steps taken by the ACE for Impact Centers in addressing the pandemic to ensure continuous teaching and learning. Subsequently, a virtual meeting was held with the Centers to validate information collected through the survey.  The survey results indicated challenges faced by the Centers and they pertain to infrastructure ; skills ; e-Platforms; limited time to plan and implement alternative solutions; limited commitment of staff and students to online learning; funding challenges and infection risks.

A review of how the ACE for Development Impact Centers in West Africa are responding to COVID19

Even though the ACE Impact Centers are facing numerous challenges, they are still contributing their quota in helping countries within the West African sub-region manage the crisis. The Centers have so far responded to the COVID19 pandemic by using technology for teaching, learning and research; engaging in innovative and groundbreaking research activities and participating in community outreach activities and services.

  1. Notably, there has been groundbreaking research going on in different centers to provide immediate solutions that can support the management of the pandemic. The researches have so far led to the sequencing of the virus, abilities to carry out massive testing and online screening of individuals’ risk levels, among others.
  2. In line with the ACE for development impact project objective to contribute to regional development through applied research, the centers are doing research to address societal needs. These efforts have included the production of personal protection equipment such as  face shields through 3D printing,  manufacturing of ventilators, production of nose masks, production of alcoholic gels and hand sanitizers and manufacturing of hand washing equipment for communities in their respective countries.
  3. Several Centers have also created mathematical models to help assess and predict the spread of the virus and the possibility of confinement in certain cities.

These initiatives are all key towards preventing the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

DOWNLOAD Table that profiles individual ACE for Impact Centers’ Efforts towards responding to COVID 19

About the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project       

The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) Project is a World Bank initiative in collaboration with governments of participating countries to support Higher Education institutions in specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Environment, Agriculture, applied Social Science / Education and Health. It is the first World Bank project aimed at the capacity building of higher education institutions in Africa. The first phase (ACE I) was launched in 2014 with 22 Centers of Excellence in nine (9) West and Central African countries; Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. The Project aims to promote regional specialization among participating universities in areas that address specific common regional development challenges. It also aims to strengthen the capacities of these universities to deliver high quality training and applied research as well as meet the demand for skills required for Africa’s development. The second phase (ACE II) was launched in East and Southern Africa with 24 centers across Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Based on the initial successes, the World Bank and the French Development Agency (AFD) in collaboration with the African governments, launched the ACE Impact Project in 2018 to strengthen post-graduate training and applied research in existing fields and support new fields that are essential for Africa’s economic growth. There are 43 ACEs (25 new ones and 18 from ACE I); 5 Emerging Centers;1 “top up” center in Social Risk Management; and 5 Colleges and Schools of Engineering. The new areas include sustainable cities; sustainable power and energy; social sciences and education; transport; population health and policy; herbal medicine development and regulatory sciences; public health; applied informatics and communication; and pastoral production.

Contact: | Association of African Universities | P. O. Box AN 5744,
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