International partnerships research global impact of COVID-19

A MAP at home project in Rwanda

Many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries will be researched by 20 international partnerships.

A funding call that supports research into COVID-19 and its impact on some of the world’s most disadvantaged people has awarded grants to 20 projects. The projects will develop solutions to mitigate the short and long-term social, economic and health consequences of the pandemic.

Vulnerable communities

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 issues such as conflict and resource shortages.

These awards are the second tranche to be announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund.

After a first group of 20 projects were announced in September, it means a total of 40 partnerships are working across every part of the Global South. They are investigating everything from improving health systems in Africa to how the pandemic is affecting fishing communities, displaced people and people with disabilities.

£14.5 million investment

The Agile COVID-19 GCRF and Newton Fund has invested £14.5 million into the projects. The projects have brought together more than 100 universities and hundreds of other partners operating in 39 low- and middle-income countries.

They build on the multidisciplinary partnerships formed through the two global funds over the past four years. They have enabled rapid new partnerships between the international development research community, other academics, policy makers, governments, businesses and community groups across the UK and the rest of the world. The projects 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.

Many strong proposals

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.

Further information

The funded projects include:

STFC and CERN led ventilator project

£760,000 of support went to a project led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) for developing a cost-effective ventilator aimed at provided high quality support for patients with severe respiratory problems.

The project is based on the CERN High Energy physics Ventilator (HEV) project started in March 2020 by researchers working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. The project had guidance from the World Health Organisation and others with the aim of being suitable for use in developing countries. The project will re-engineer the hardware and software of the HEV prototype design to make it ready for regulatory approval and for manufacture by a commercial partner.

The programme is coordinated by STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory and partners include:

  • CERN
  • Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Liverpool
  • Medical Devices Testing and Evaluation Centre.

To find out more see: UK scientists to produce high-performance ventilators at low cost.

Building evidence to support economic policy decisions under COVID-19

International Growth Centre, London School of Economics; University of Warwick, Ethiopia; Columbia University, Bangladesh; Boston University, Ghana; University of Southern California, Uganda.

The International Growth Centre partnership has already worked with policymakers in nine developing countries in Africa and South Asia to identify key research questions about:

  • how COVID-19 is impacting is impacting households and businesses
  • how the economic recovery can be accelerated
  • which policy interventions are effective
  • how assistance should be provided to those most in need.

Researchers based in these countries will co-generate research projects with policymakers that will inform key policy decisions in the next 18 months. The project aims to develop around 30 individual studies, building on 34 COVID-19 studies already launched.

Mobile Arts for Peace (MAP) at home: online wellbeing support through the arts in Rwanda

University of Lincoln; University College London; Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace, Rwanda; Uyisenga Ni Imanzi, Rwanda; Rwanda Biomedical Centre; National Rehabilitation Service, Rwanda; Rwanda Arts Council; UNESCO, Rwanda.

The Rwandan government initiated strict lockdown measures during the pandemic to prevent movement outside the home, in a country where more than a quarter of the population are believed to suffer from PTSD and genocide survivor organisations report increased mental stress due to the measures.

In partnership with local non-governmental organisations, MAP at home will research the prevention of, response to and awareness of mental health. It will promote wellbeing among youth, families, and community members through an innovative arts-based, culturally informed approach, responsive to the needs of participants.  It will generate knowledge on how to reach, engage and equip young people and caregivers with tools for wellbeing through the development of online and participatory workshops.

Modelling COVID-19 exposure risks in public transit and private paratransit for decision-making in Bangladesh, Uganda and Nigeria

University of Leeds; University of Asia Pacific; Makerere University, Uganda; Federal University of Technology Owerri, Nigeria; Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

In most developing countries, the public transport system is supplemented by ‘paratransits’ such as motorcycle taxis and autorickshaws. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these paratransits are banned from operating in Bangladesh, Uganda and Nigeria, disrupting travel and causing mass unemployment among the drivers. However, there are serious concerns about the safety of passengers on public transport, which is enclosed and where maintaining social distancing is nearly impossible.

Paratransits could be a viable alternative, but there are no studies investigating the relative risks. The project aims to use computer modelling accompanied by passenger surveys to assess the exposure risk in different types of transport, with or without mitigation measures, so policymakers can make evidence-based decisions.

Top image:  A MAP at home project in Rwanda (credit: University of Lincoln)

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