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UCL collaboration scoops Outstanding Research Team award in Zambia

Sophie Vinter14 November 2016

The University of Zambia-UCL Medical School research and training project team scooped the Outstanding Research Team award at the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership Forum A UCL Medical School collaboration with the University of Zambia has scooped a prestigious award in recognition of its equitable partnership model for conducting research into poverty-related diseases.

The UNZA-UCLMS partnership, established by Professor Alimuddin Zumla (UCL Division of Infection and Immunity), won the Outstanding Research Team Award during the eighth European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials (EDCTP) Partnership Forum.

The President of the Republic of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, presented the award and €50,000 prize money to members of the team.

The award was collected by Dr Peter Mwaba (former UCL PhD student of Professor Zumla), Dr Nathan Kapata (National Tuberculosis Programme Manager), Dr Aaron Shibemba, (Head of Pathology) and UCL Postdoctoral Scientists Dr Matthew Bates and Dr Jim Huggett.

Crossing disciplines and borders

Professor Zumla established the programme in 1994 with the Dean of the University of Zambia Medical School, Professor Chifumbe Chintu, as a novel model of academic partnership.

It would take forward African science away from domination by the North, instead championing the cause for fair and equitable North-South and South-South research, training and capacity development initiatives.

Since then the collaboration has linked 34 institutions from across West, Central, South and East Africa with 28 European institutions.

The partnership has led to training for numerous medical, scientific, nursing and laboratory personnel, capacity building for conducting clinical trials, and the development of valuable research infrastructure.

Prof Zumla said: “We are extremely proud, honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious award from the EDCTP. Success of complex multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional and multi-country educational, capacity development and research programmes is critically dependent on selfless, committed, and dedicated staff. This award acknowledges the exceptional contributions made over 23 years by my teams here at UCL and in Zambia in collaboration with all our partner institutions in Africa and Europe.”

UNZA-UCLMS Project team (Centre Professor Zumla with Dr Peter Maaba and Dr Nathan Kapata)

Mutually beneficial

The collaboration was based on the principal that partnerships must engage all parties in a way that is mutually beneficial, and that all research must be twinned and aligned to local capacity development and training.

The team has made great headway in tackling poverty-related diseases over the years, achieving more than 500 publications, 20 textbooks and over 100 articles in The Lancet journals.

Its clinical trials, autopsy and translational research data have been used by the World Health Organization (WHO) and African governments for improving management and prevention of poverty-related diseases.

It brings together scientists, funders, politicians, and advocates to unite together in the fight against infectious diseases, particularly tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, diseases declared global emergencies by the WHO in 1993.

Ask GEO: Rachel Corcoran, Programme Manager

Sophie Vinter22 September 2016

Rachel Corcoran, Programme ManagerRachel is GEO’s Programme Manager. We asked her to tell us more about her role and the recently launched Global Engagement Funds.

What is your role in GEO?

UCL’s Global Engagement Strategy launched in May last year – it’s an ambitious strategy which sets out a number of objectives: from ramping up the university’s collaborations with institutions abroad, to increasing student mobility and raising UCL’s global profile, to name a few.

As with any strategy, it’s all well and good deciding what you want to achieve, but the more difficult part is in the delivery. In UCL’s case, my office, the GEO, has a team dedicated to partnership development, with much of the other activity actually delivered by lots of other departments across the university – a ‘hub and spoke’ model (see image below), with GEO as the ‘hub’.

As Programme Manager, my role is to be a central point of oversight – to plan, monitor and evaluate success, ensuring that progress against objectives across UCL is captured in one place, identifying areas of overlap between different initiatives and supporting delivery offices where needed.

One part of the strategy which I specifically work on is managing the funding to academics to develop their overseas collaborations – recently I was pleased to launch the second year of the Global Engagement Funds.

The 'Hub and Spoke' model for delivering UCL's Global Engagement StrategyWhat are the Global Engagement Funds for?

Global Engagement Funds cover the costs associated with UCL academics collaborating with higher education institutions, organisations or companies abroad.  The aim is to facilitate activity for which there might not be another funding source, but which could be the start of an exciting new initiative.

There were some fascinating projects last year – I remember there was one from Archaeology, involving a researcher partnering with a Dutch NGO to tackle the black market in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria, through jointly building a database of such objects. Or the lecturer from the Institute for Global Health who funded travel to Kigali to work with the University of Rwanda on the prevention of gender-based violence – including a joint seminar, meetings with key individuals, and visits to potential field sites, with a view to writing a grant proposal.

I’m not part of the decision-making though – the panels are led by Vice-Deans International (VDIs) and regional Pro-Vice-Provosts (PVPRs).

What is the role of the VDIs and PVPRs in the wider strategy?

The PVPRs play an important strategic role as a catalyst for UCL’s engagement in their particular region. Each term they chair the Regional Network meeting; they welcome international delegations to UCL and act as ambassadors for UCL abroad.

While the PVPRs focus on a specific region spanning all of UCL’s faculties, the role of the VDIs spans all regions in a particular faculty. They are a point of contact for academics and work with the Dean to ensure that the faculty’s global partnerships (e.g. teaching, research, consultancy, knowledge transfer) are in line with the wider strategy.

Map showing UCL activity in Europe as at September 2016How do you think the vote for Brexit has impacted on UCL’s plans for global engagement?

I think that it just shows that it is now more important than ever that UCL remains open and engaged with the world, sending a clear message to our partners (see my colleague Conor’s comments).  As our Vice-Provost (International) says, we are redoubling our efforts to meet those objectives set out in the strategy, especially with regard to Europe, one of the regions where we have a significant amount of activity.

Not only that, but I am excited to be part of reviewing, in the light of the Brexit vote, the way in which we intend to go about achieving objectives.