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Europe and Africa: cooperation for health

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Healthcare is a crucial issue for Africa: every year, according to data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), hundreds of thousands of people in the African continent die due to infectious diseases. The registered cases of yellow fever are 200,000 annually, with a mortality rate of around 50 percent, in Sub-Saharan Africa 25 million people are HIV-positive (more than 10 percent of them are children) and in West Africa, in addition to the outbreak of Ebola that caused nearly 8,000 deaths in 2014, an equally devastating cholera epidemic is ongoing. Not to mention historical diseases that cause many victims, such as tuberculosis and malaria. That is the scenario, certainly not encouraging. In recent years, however, something has changed. The scientific collaboration between Europe and Africa in the field of healthcare research was intensified, particularly thanks to the projects promoted by the European Union. One of the most important is ECDTP.

ECDTP Program (European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership) was founded in 2003 with the aim to combat and defeat the infectious diseases (AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria) in particular regions of Sub-Saharan Africa through the development of accurate clinical trials and the creation of new drugs and vaccines. Thanks to EDCTP, 241 projects were financially supported between 2003 and 2013. Within those projects were conducted 88 clinical trials: 31 on AIDS, 25 on tuberculosis and 32 on malaria. ECDTP2, the second ECDTP program, which began in 2014 and will develop over a decade, has been included in Horizon 2020. The European Union will contribute with 683 million euro, while other 1.5 billion will come by individual European countries. In total, the project involved 11 African countries and 13 European countries. EDCTP2 represents an important milestone in the cooperation in medical research at par between Europe and Africa.

In particular, as regards Ebola currently there are not vaccines licensed. However, there are many vaccines ready to be developed. IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative) launched Ebola+, a program to find quick solutions to Ebola and diseases linked to it, such as LHF (Lassa hemorrhagic fever) and MVD (Marburg virus disease). The program involves collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, experts from universities and small biotech companies. The initial budget is 280 million euro and will result in projects involving the production, transportation and storage of vaccines and the development of rapid diagnostic tests. The first projects are expected in early 2015 and the first one will generate the data needed to evaluate the safety of the vaccines ready for development and the level of protection that vaccines offer against the disease. Thanks to Ebola+, it will be possible to create a platform that can quickly produce enough vaccine to carry and store in a safe manner, in accordance with the requirements of quality and strict security, since currently the main problem is that few manufacturers can respect the rating required for safe production of vaccines.

In recent years, investments in the health sector in Africa have grown at an impressive pace, and it is expected that only in Sub-Saharan Africa they will reach 35 billion dollars by 2016. During 2015, the partnership between Africa and Europe will know another important opportunity for growth. On 26 and 27 February 2015, the third edition of the Africa Healthcare Summit – which is the most important European event related to the healthcare in Africa – was held in London. The summit involved delegations from ministries of health and finance in Africa, health professionals, hospital directors and investors, and international experts in the health sector. The purpose of the summit was to take stock on the development of projects related to health African so far and assess the prospects on future investments.

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