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South Africa strengthens its fight against COVID-19 through international solidarity and the BRICS cooperation

InternationalCape Town | While South Africa and many parts of the world have gained valuable experience on COVID-19 mitigation and made encouraging progress in vaccine research and development, there are concerted efforts in the BRICS countries to further control the scourge.

In response to the rapid rise in the number of active cases and mortality and in the absence of treatments and preventative vaccines at the time, the BRICS Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Framework Programme launched a call for multilateral basic, applied and innovation research projects in an effort to facilitate collaboration among the researchers and institutions across all its five member-countries. For the South African leg of the project, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) is providing funding for the activities alongside the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) which is also the project administrator.

In July 2020, a call for applications was published by the SAMRC aimed at researchers based at research and development organisations, South African universities and science councils, including the SAMRC, to submit suitable project proposals for funding. A similar process was undertaken in other BRICS partner countries.

In response to the call, a total of 111 eligible proposals were submitted across all five countries in five thematic areas, the majority of applications focused on the area of research and development of COVID-19 vaccines and drugs, including repurposing of available vaccines and drugs, followed by the thematic area of research and development of new technologies/tools for diagnosing COVID-19.

Following a closely monitored selection process which included a rigorous peer review process in all the BRICS countries, the Call Secretariat convened a meeting of all the relevant funding agencies in each BRICS country in December 2020. Based on the rankings submitted by the funding agencies and through a consensus process, twelve joint projects were selected for funding, of which seven joint projects have a South African component.

Twenty research institutions in South Africa submitted applications with 42% of potential lead investigators being women and 58% men. Dr Niresh Bhagwandin, Executive Manager at the SAMRC’s Strategic Research Initiatives who managed the call for applications on behalf of DSI and the SAMRC said: “This demonstrates the progress made in the agenda of science transformation and the advancement of women in order to bring a gender-edge to science and research”

Professor Glenda Gray, SAMRC President and CEO highlighted that although there have been tremendous global efforts to find multiple vaccine candidates to protect against infection and subsequent development of COVID-19, the need to invest in further research to curb and eradicate the virus, remains. “A lot has happened in the fight against COVID-19 since we last launched the call - now the biggest vaccination campaign in history is underway with millions of doses being administered globally, including South Africa. However, much work is still needed especially in the areas of innovative diagnostic tools and the search for more effective drugs and vaccines,” said Gray, adding that such partnerships are not only necessary in the COVID-19 context, but may go a long way in preparing us to deal with future epidemics.

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, commented: “South Africa enjoys privileged political and economic relations with the BRICS partners, as well as strategic cooperation in science and innovation. I am delighted that we are able to harness these relations through the BRICS Framework Programme for a portfolio of impressive research and innovation projects, which will make a critical contribution to the global response to COVID-19. South Africa remains firmly committed and we will continue to actively work to expand BRICS cooperation across our National System of Innovation.”

Valued at more than R30 million, the seven awardees (Principal/Lead Investigators) in South Arica and their studies are:

  1. Prof Kelly Chibale: University of Cape Town
    Multidisciplinary platform based on artificial intelligence for accelerating drug discovery and repurposing for COVID-19
  2. Prof Hanlie Smuts: University of Pretoria
    BRICS-ICT Alliance for Smart Resource Utilization to Combat Global Pandemic Outbreaks
  3. Prof Tulio de Oliveira: University of KwaZulu-Natal
    SARS-CoV-2 Network for Genomic Surveillance in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa
  4. Prof Bavesh Kana: University of the Witwatersrand & National Health Laboratory Service
    Impact of Covid-19 on clinical manifestations, diagnosis, treatment outcome and immune response for pulmonary tuberculosis (Nickname: ABRICOT - Associative BRICS Research in Covid-19 and Tuberculosis)
  5. Prof Anneke C Hesseling: Stellenbosch University
    Epidemiological impact and intersection of the COVID-19 and tuberculosis pandemics in Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa
  6. Prof Uchechukwu Nwodo: University of Fort Hare
    Epidemiological features and geospatial evaluation of COVID-19: Correlation with comorbidities and prognostic biomarkers between SARS-CoV-2 and Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  7. Prof Anil Chuturgoon: University of KwaZulu-Natal
    Repurposing of drugs and validation of lead compounds against main protease and RNA dependent RNA polymerase of SARS-CoV2

Speaking at the virtual 12th annual BRICS Summit 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa lauded the efforts of the BRICS STI Framework Programme in its response to COVID-19, commending the speed and efficiency with which countries mobilised the capacities of the Programme. While calling for more investments to be channeled towards innovation-focused projects, the President emphasised that “Investing in science, technology and innovation will not only prepare us for future health emergencies, it will also enable us to confront other global challenges.”


About the BRICS STI Framework Programme
The BRICS STI Framework Programme was introduced in 2017 under the bilateral and multilateral frameworks in accordance with the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in STI, between the governments of BRICS countries.  It seeks to drive rapid and sustainable economic growth and social progress in the BRICS countries through innovation. The framework stipulates that innovation is one of the key driving forces of global sustainable development, playing a fundamental role in promoting economic growth, supporting job creation, entrepreneurship and structural reform, enhancing productivity and competitiveness, and addressing global challenges to provide better services for citizens | Read More

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