Top scientists unite to launch Pan-African Disease Foundation

A consortium of African universities and research institutions led by the Walter Sisulu University from South Africa, today announced the founding of the Sisulu Foundation for African and Pandemic Disease Response ("The Sisulu Foundation").

The Foundation will establish a collaborative Pan-African platform for training, research and development in pandemics.

It aims to accelerate responses from within the African research community with regards to diseases and pandemics.

Foundation members include the Walter Sisulu University, South Africa ("WSU"); the North-West University, South Africa ("NWU"); the KAVI Institute for Clinical Research at the University in Nairobi, Kenya;  L'Institut de Recherche en Santé, de Surveillance Épidémiologique et de Formations (IRESSEF) from Senegal; the University of Botswana, the South African Vaccination and Immunization Center (SAVIC) at Sefako Makgatho University, South Africa; The Mother and Child University Hospital - Jeanne EBORI, Gabon; the University of Bonn, Germany; the National Institute of Biochemistry in Slovenia, and several scientists in their personal capacities.

Prof Rushiella Songca

"We are extremely excited about this Foundation," explains Prof Rushiella Songca, vice-chancellor and principal of the Walter Sisulu University. "It allows for African scientists to contribute to solving the health challenges of Africa collaboratively.
It is poignant when the World Health Organisation (WHO) and donor countries ask: But where are the African scientists and their solutions in times of pandemic?
This Covid-19 pandemic exposed huge gaps, but these are also huge opportunities."



The chairman of the executive board of the WHO, Dr Patrick Amoth, also expressed his excitement about the establishment of the Sisulu Foundation. "It is long overdue that African scientists participate in tackling the health challenges facing Africa. We are particularly impressed that the Sisulu Foundation managed to onboard some African heavyweights in vaccines and virology. And we are delighted to see a collaborative, Pan-African effort. Well done to the founding partners! Let this be a call to action for African scientists, wherever they may find themselves and to our scientist friends from across the world. We are in this together!" Dr Amoth is also the director-general of Health in Kenya, giving him first-hand insight into the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic on the African continent.


Dr Patrick Amoth
Prof Dan Kgwadi

Prof Dan Kgwadi, principal and vice-chancellor of the NWU, reinforced the commitment from his institution to the Sisulu Foundation: "The NWU is proud to be part of this consortium. We look forward to exchanging knowledge and expertise with other scientists on our continent and beyond. Collaborations and partnerships between our universities and particularly among scientists will lead us towards sustainable solutions to many of the health challenges faced by our communities. We will continue to invest in technical infrastructure and other support measures to ensure the success of the Foundation's work."



Prof Stephen Kiama Gitahi PhD, the vice-chancellor of the University of Nairobi, expressed the importance of complementary nodes in the research, development and production of vaccines and other medicines across the African continent. "We are delighted to be on board with this ambitious venture. Our KAVI Institute will lead the East African node and will work closely with our partners in the rest of the continent and Europe to develop solutions to the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and use the lessons learnt to prepare our country and the region adequately to deal with future infectious disease threats. The solutions we seek through the Walter Sisulu Foundation should be appropriate for Africa and African-led for Africa.The University of Nairobi and the Kenyan people are proud to be part of this."


One of the great scoops for the Sisulu Foundation was the signing of IRESSEF, L'Institut de Recherche en Santé, de Surveillance Épidémiologique et de Formations, in Diamniadio, Senegal. Under the leadership of the world-renowned microbiologist Prof Souleymane Mboup, this West African Institute has been a guiding light of vaccine research in Africa over the past decades. Prof Mboup expressed, "We are very excited to join the Sisulu Foundation; it can be the beginning of great things for the African continent. The current Covid pandemic has taught us a hard lesson: It is imperative for African nations to become self-sufficient, as a collective, when it comes to vaccines, medicines and pandemic control. If we don't research possible solutions, we won't develop them, and if we don't develop them, we won't manufacture them, and if we don't manufacture them, we will again stand at the back of the queue when a global pandemic breaks out. The Sisulu Foundation is a catalyst for jointly addressing these aspects."
Prof Stephen Kiama Gitahi
Professor Walter

Prof Walter Jaoko, director of the KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research at the University of Nairobi, reinforces his vice-chancellor's message and stresses the importance of own manufacturing capacity: "The launch of this Pan-African platform for accelerated vaccine skills development is very welcome. The current challenges by Africa to access the Covid-19 vaccine is a wake-up call for the continent to begin manufacturing its own vaccines. In addition, with the advancing of African countries from low-income to the lower-middle-income class means that these countries will now have to purchase childhood vaccines since they will no longer have free access to them through Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI). By Africa having its own vaccine manufacturing capability, such countries can be assured of access to these vaccines at affordable prices. I congratulate Walter Sisulu University for this very noble initiative."


Prof Awie Kotze, executive dean of the NWU's Faculty of Health Sciences, where they are in the final throws of motivating to the South African government for the establishment of a decentralised medical school model at the NWU, explained their thinking.
"It is important to create a decentralized pandemic response capacity on the continent. South Africans have to collaborate with the experts in other African countries and set up collaborative nodes of expertise. This is an ideal opportunity, and the NWU wants to be part of this."


Prof Awie Kotze

The Sisulu Foundation also has two prominent inaugural members from the European Union. Their roles on the Scientific Advisory Board will be instrumental in knowledge transfer and linkages to Europe, where governments share a growing interest in African epidemics, in view of the movement of people (and hence diseases) between Africa and Europe.


Prof Hendrik Streeck

In this regard, Prof Hendrik Streeck from Bonn University, Germany, said, "The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated to us once more that nobody is safe until everyone is safe. I am honoured to join the Scientific Advisory board of the Sisulu Foundation to improve worldwide pandemic preparedness and equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide."
Prof Streeck is joined on the advisory board by fellow EU scientist prof Roman Jerala of the Slovenian National Institute of Chemistry.



Prof Markus Depfenhart, a co-founder of the Sisulu Foundation, holds extraordinary professorships at WSU and NWU. He is currently leading a joint preclinical trial by these universities on a Covid-19 vaccine that he developed. "When the Covid-19 pandemic spread internationally, early in 2020, we predicted that African nations will be at the back of the queue for vaccines and that the leading vaccine platforms will likely not prove highly effective on Africans. This called for a broader collaboration with African scientists, some of whom have developed vaccines before, who are experts in this field. And that is what the Sisulu Foundation has unlocked."


Prof Markus Depfenhart

Prof Songca reiterates: "We are humbled by the calibre of scientists coming on board, especially from Africa.  Our young scientists should learn from them and join us in building a strong scientific capacity base for the African continent. There is no reason why we should not lead the development of solutions for Africa."

The Sisulu Foundation plans to conduct a public launch ceremony later this year to allow the third waves of Covid first to pass in the various regions.
In the interim, the Board and Scientific Advisory Board will be evaluating several projects and initiatives by member institutions.

More about our partners:

  • Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) was established in 1998 as a research unit within the Department of Medical Microbiology, College of Health Sciences, University of Nairobi.  It focuses on four themes: The Non-Communicable Diseases track includes Cancers such as breast, colon, prostate cancers as well as the diseases of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and endocrine systems. The Communicable Disease track focuses on HIV/AIDS, along with research on tuberculosis, zoonoses, and childhood respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases. The Clinical Trials track runs HIV vaccine trials in addition to trials for other products including chemotherapy drug trials.
    The KAVI directors, Professors Omu Anzala and Walter Jaoko, are internationally renowned scientists with distinguished track records related to vaccines.  Prof Anzala  had served as principal or co- investigator in more than 30 medical research projects many of which were clinical trials for vaccines.  Since 2020 he has been a member of the World Health Organisation's African Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (AACVS); as well as a member of The Kenya National COVID -19 TASK force.  This included being Team Leader of the Kenya National COVID-19 Case management, Research and Modelling Consortium. He has been a member of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (South Africa) since 2017.
    Joining prof Anzala at the Sisulu Foundation is his predecessor at KAVI, the equally formidable professor Walter Jaoko, a physician and professor of medical microbiology and tropical medicine at the University of Nairobi with a track record of more than 30 years. He has researched various aspects of infectious diseases transmission, treatment and control, has been the Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator in several clinical trials and have published over 180 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the Expert Committee on Clinical Trials (ECCTs) of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Kenya, the country's national regulatory authority.
  • The Institute for Health Research, Epedemiological Surveillance and Training is a world renowned not-for-profit institute based in Diamniadio, Senegal, and is headed by internationally acclaimed scientist and professor Souleymane Mboup, , one of the scientists who discovered the HIV-2 strain in the 1980s. IRESSEF has research programmes focusing on HIV, TB, Malaria and Ebola.
  •  The National Institute of Chemistry in Ljubljana, Slovenia is an international recognised research center with a rich history spanning more than 75 years, and with more than 330 researchers conducting basic and applied research in fields which are of long-term importance to both Slovenia and the world, including life sciences. Joining the scientific advisory board of the Sisulu Foundation is professor Roman Jerala,, a  biochemist and synthetic biologist, internationally best known as the leader of Slovenian teams that won the Grand prize at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition several times.  In August 2020 he led a team of scientists at the Institute to develop a DNA based vaccine for Covid-19…; He currently leads a team from the Institute as participants in the prestigious, EU-funded Virofight project.
  • The Medical Faculty at the University of Bonn is one of the leading medical schools in Europe and boasts world renowned  teams in virology and epidemiology. Leading the team to the Sisulu Foundation collaborative, is Prof Hendrik Streeck, virologist and HIV researcher and Director of the Institute for Virology at the University Hospital Bonn.  Prof Streeck has become a household name in Germany for his regular television appearances to explain the Covid-19 virus and its impact.…
  •   The South African Vaccination and Immunization Center (SAVIC) at Sefako Makgatho University is a specialized public private partnership between the South African National Department of Health and the vaccine industry. Its team to the Sisulu Foundation collaborative is led by prof Hannelie Meyer, who, amongst others, also serves as the Chair of the National Immunisation Safety Expert Committee (NISEC). She previously served as SAVIC's Scientific Advisor for pharmacovigilance, cold chain management and logistics.
  • The University of Botswana, with its strong regional focus on life sciences and through its medical school, will also add significant value to the Sisulu Foundation.
  • The Mother and Child University Hospital Jeanne Ebori, in Gabon, co-hosts the Specialized Research and Diagnostics Unit of the National Public Health Laboratory of Gabon.  Their research focuses on infectious diseases: Host-pathogen interactions (immune response) and epidemiology (including drug resistance).  Professor Joel Fleury Djoba Siawaya is the head of Laboratory Medicine and Research at the Hospital and also the president of its Scientific committee.  In addition, he serves as Secretary General of the Integrated Network of Surveillance and Laboratories (RISLNET) of Central Africa (an Africa CDC Network).
  • The North-West University has a well-established Faculty of Health Sciences with one of the best known departments of pharmaceutical sciences on the African continent. It is in advanced discussions with the relevant government departments to establish a medical school.  The participating departments in the Sisulu Foundation collaborative include the following:
    • DST/ NWU Preclinical Drug Delivery Platform (PCDDP- ) The DSI/NWU Preclinical Drug Development Platform (PCDDP) is a national facility contributing to building a vibrant pharmaceutical industry in South Africa by functioning as a preclinical testing platform for local and international research institutions and companies involved in development of pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, and phytomedicines. The PCDDP has qualified professionals and a state-of-the-art AAALAC accredited and GLP compliant facility equipped with environmental control and data capturing systems for conducting preclinical studies.
    • The Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research (AUTHeR- AUTHeR is a multidisciplinary-, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research unit based on the Potchefstroom campus of the North-West University in South Africa.  It pursues realistic solutions to real-life health and wellbeing challenges on the African continent. Researchers are empowered to draw upon the concepts and methods of other disciplines to create new solutions to complex health issues. Although positioned within the Faculty of Health Sciences, AUTHeR functions across disciplinary boundaries and is, therefore, an ideal research environment when complex research problems cannot be solved within one discipline only.  In addition, AUTHeR is known for community-based participatory action research, community engagement, and integration, as well as a holistic approach to research.
  •  The Walter Sisulu University is based in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa and boasts on of the foremost community and problem based medical schools in the country.…; It has particular focus on Clinical Sciences (including Clinical Epidemiology;  Chronic Diseases including Tuberculosis, Asthma, Cardiac Diseases;  HIV & Aids from Health Promotion and Prevention including HIV Vaccine Testing to Monitoring and Evaluation of HIV & Aids Management including ARVs) and Public Health (including The Burden of Disease; Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Health Systems Research; and Health Informatics). The Medical School is celebrating its 36th year of existence in 2021.

Spokesperson NWU:  Louis Jacobs - Director: Corporate Communication
Tel: 082 901 6435

Spokesperson WSU:  Yonela Tukwayo – Executive Director: Marketing, Communication and Advancement
Tel: 060 997 4431


Submitted on Wed, 06/23/2021 - 11:16