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International COVID-19 awards to support global recovery


International COVID-19 awards to support global recovery project summaries

COVID-19 and its impact on some of the world’s most disadvantaged people are to be explored in 20 new projects announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in a quest to develop solutions that will mitigate the short and long-term social, economic and health consequences of the pandemic.

Researchers and experts from the UK and across developing countries will work in partnership to directly address the negative impacts of COVID-19 on communities which are already vulnerable due to long-term conflict, food and water shortages and crowded living conditions. These awards are the first tranche to be announced by UKRI funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund.

Announcing the awards, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Defeating coronavirus is a truly global endeavor, which is why we’re backing Britain’s scientists and researchers to work with their international counterparts to find tech solutions to treat and combat this virus around the world.

“The research projects we are backing today will ensure that we equip some of the most vulnerable communities with the resources they need to tackle Covid-19 and build their long-term resilience to respond to future pandemics, making us all safer.”

UKRI launched its Agile Covid-19 GCRF and Newton Fund call to address the urgent need to understand the specific challenges faced by some of the world’s poorest people in the face of this global crisis.

Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI’s International Champion, said: “COVID-19 is demonstrating just how interconnected our world is and how our biggest challenges transcend rich and poor countries. To find lasting, sustainable solutions to the current pandemic and its aftermath, as well as to make us more resilient for the future, we require global thinking, the mobilisation of global expertise and a global response. That is exactly what these new projects provide. Working together, researchers across the UK and the Global South are combining their knowledge and experience to develop innovative solutions to empower local communities to overcome the wide-ranging challenges created by COVID”

These new awards build on the multidisciplinary partnerships formed through the two global funds over the past four years, enabling rapid new partnerships between the international development research community, other academics, policy makers, governments, businesses and community groups across the UK and over 20 developing countries. The projects, totaling around £7.2 million, will be carried out over the next 18 months.



Ms. Ann Nyambura Wanyoike, the Manager, Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, Kenya, and a member of the peer review panel that assessed the project proposals, said: “This Agile call was a timely and invaluable platform for innovative research ideas that showcased the potential impact of multidisciplinary approaches for tackling the global pandemic. The call drew a broad cross-section of researchers and partnerships from across the globe to spearhead novel proposals and innovations towards current policy or practice in the understanding of, response to, and recovery from COVID-19 in developing countries, with the capacity to deliver lasting impacts on livelihoods too.”

Fellow peer review panelist, Professor Dr Ruzy Suliza Hashim, Centre for Research in Language and Linguistics, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, added: “There were many strong proposals that highlight the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted developing countries. The variety of inquiries and solutions to problems and challenges that different nations and communities experience in handling the pandemic require collaborative efforts of international partners. I was impressed with the scholarship and commitment from various academic and industry partners well as NGOs from across the world and this breadth of experience is central across all these project teams.”

UKRI has published the peer review panel members here.

The call closed on 31 July and a second tranche of awards will be announced in the autumn.

Learn more about the projects

You can view summaries of all the 20 funded projects here (PDF, 177KB). They include:

People’s PPE: dealing with a crisis by building livelihoods

University of Sheffield; London College of Fashion, UAL; UNHCR; Al Albayt University, Jordan; University of Petra, Jordan.

Since March, researchers have been working with the UNHCR to make PPE for Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp (and its population of approximately 80,000 Syrians) using digital printing and sewing capabilities to co-create innovations such as prototype laser-cut and 3D-printed face shields, masks, shields and gowns.

The funding will enable the team to run an interdisciplinary co-production project, both designing PPE for production in refugee camps and the host community, and researching how the availability of PPE affects camp residents’ attitudes and behaviours to the risks from health threats. In Jordan, researchers will be trained in the design, manufacture, and use of reusable PPE.

The UNHCR made this short film about the project’s work to date.

Building the capacity of reliable diagnostic & epidemiological tools to confront the spectre of a COVID-19 epidemic in refugee communities in northern Uganda 

University of Salford; Gulu University, Uganda; Gulu Regional Hospital; Uganda Virus Research Institute; Makerere University, Uganda; University of Liverpool.

This project is focused on building capacity for Covid-19 diagnostics and molecular epidemiology in post-conflict northern Uganda, then applying these to help control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in South Sudanese refugee settlements and neighbouring Ugandan communities in the region.

These aims will be met by sharing experience gained by scientists managing the pandemic over the last 6 months in the UK with Ugandan colleagues then working with them to establish and showcase laboratory and bioinformatic expertise.

The project will not only offer immediate support to Ugandan pandemic control efforts but will also explore the disease’s epidemiology and its risk factors in displaced and/or poor communities, which are very different from those primarily studied to date, predominately in industrialised countries. 

COVID-19 child abuse prevention emergency response

University of Oxford; University of Cape Town, South Africa; University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; University College London; Bangor University.

This project will reach over 70 million families with Covid-19 child abuse prevention resources. A billion children living in countries eligible to receive ODA are cycling in and out of school due to Covid-19, increasing pressure on their parents and carers alongside heightened stress, illness and financial insecurity. UNICEF reports a global escalation in child abuse.

In response, the UKRI GCRF Accelerate Hub led a rapid coalition of WHO, UNICEF, the Global Partnership to End Violence, UNODC, USAID and the CDC, co-developing open-source COVID-19 parenting resources, condensing evidence from our research into child abuse prevention programmes in Africa and Asia. This project will enable greater reach and evidence including text message and app-based support for families across the world.

Read an article on the UKRI website to learn more about the parenting in a pandemic project. 

Barcoding Galapagos: retraining unemployed eco-tourism workers to help

University of Exeter, Galapagos Science Centre, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador

The team will train and employ local naturalists guides who have lost their livelihoods in eco-tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic to sample and curate the biodiversity of Galapagos using the latest genetic fingerprinting techniques. This novel initiative to barcode an ecosystem – everything from birds to plankton – using molecular genetics puts science at the forefront of socio-economic wellbeing and acts as an important reminder of the long-term benefits of sustainable natural resources.

Prof Jaime Chaves of the University of San Francisco de Quito said: “This is the first barcode project in the Galapagos of this magnitude. All the data will be generated entirely by local people and 100% of it will be processed within the islands! I do not think there is anything like this project anywhere in the world.”

Training and research programme to support primary healthcare workers’ remote appointments with patients in Africa

King's College London; St Francis University College of Health and Allied Sciences, Tanzania; African Population and Health Research Centre, Kenya; Makerere University, Uganda; University of Ibadan, Nigeria; University of Birmingham; University of Warwick

During the pandemic, remote healthcare by phone or internet is advised by the World Health Organisation rather than face-to-face appointments, but this is difficult for some countries in Africa where there is limited digital infrastructure and patients often live in remote areas. The project team has developed a training programme for health workers that enables them to deliver trusted and safe care using the phone or limited internet availability.

Trials in Nigeria and Tanzania will involve 40 health clinics. The aim is to increase the number of phone and online appointments for patients with long-term conditions and to test if these remote appointments are as acceptable, safe and trustworthy as face-to-face ones. 

Dr Olugbade Omotajo, Director of Primary Health Care and Chief Epidemiologist of Ido Local Government Health Authority in Nigeria, said:

“Having the healthcare needs of our patients being attended to without their being physically present at health facilities has the potential of reducing the risk of viral transmission and other communicable diseases, as well saving them time and money that would have been used for transportation to the healthcare facilities.”

Read an article on the KCL website to learn more about the project. 

Stitching Back Better in the Global Garment Industry, Cambodia

Royal Holloway, University of London; Cambodia Development Resource Institute, University of Nottingham.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having significant repercussions on the global garment industry, of huge importance not only to Cambodia’s economy, but also to its 1 million workers, 80% of whom are women. Many garment factories are interrupting production with the effect that 1/4 of workers have been dismissed or suspended.

This research will track and amplify the experiences and coping mechanisms of 200 women workers as they navigate the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, generating new knowledge of risk and resilience factors, and putting women at the centre of decision-making; 'stitching back better' by creating just and resilient garment supply chains.

About GCRF

GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund supporting cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries, and forms part of the UK Government’s ODA commitment.

It harnesses the strengths of the UK’s world-leading researchers enabling them to collaborate with experts in developing countries through equitable partnerships. GCRF focuses on funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need. The fund is managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and delivered through nine partners.

About the Newton Fund

The Newton Fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to support economic development and social welfare, tackle global challenges and develop talent and careers. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021. The fund is managed by BEIS and delivered by UK and international partners.

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