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Hughes Fellow Dr Sara Melville on making a difference in West Africa

That Africa is full of bright scientists who want make a difference on their own continent is indisputable, and the 21st century is bringing new opportunities to do that. Widespread access to the internet has reduced isolation and given rapid exposure to ideas and scientists across the globe; and funders increasingly focus on both helping PhD-holders return to their countries and improving PhD training opportunities in African institutions. Scientists need to travel and interact with the international community, but in the end the continent needs home-grown scientists seeking solutions to Africa’s problems.

The Institute of Infectious Diseases of Poverty/Institut de Recherche sur les Maladies de la Pauvreté was born of a group of individuals committed to exploring a capacity-building model that would retain home-grown talent and promote an inter-disciplinary approach to diseases that disproportionately affect poor populations. The group brings together public health, social and molecular scientists, parasitologists, epidemiologists, pharmacologists and others, working in stronger and weaker institutions in West Africa, each with links to policymakers and implementers in the region.

Founding member of IIDP and Fellow of Hughes Hall, Sara Melville, developed and delivered a course on professional skills and career development for young scientists. “They unite across nations, languages and religions and as a close-knit group they are inspiring” she says, “As with all students, I urge them to keep their standards high and to clearly identify their goals, then they will compete on the world stage”. The same enthusiasm and engagement was evident in the Higher Degree Supervisors’ Course,¬† also delivered for the second time by colleagues from Monash University (Kuala Lumpar), leading to calls for its institutionalisation across the region. With the graduation of IIDP scholars seeking jobs in West Africa, IIDP aims to sow the seeds of a train-the-trainer network for both supervisors and students.