APHRC expands its presence with regional office in West Africa

May 14, 2019

Tuesday,  May 14, 2019, a date that will forever be etched in my memory and in the books of history at the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) as a day that marked the launch of our fully-fledged office for the West African region in Dakar, Senegal.

The tension was palpable in the air as our guests streamed in. I was toeing the fine line between anxiety and excitement, as months and weeks of planning culminated to this day. A myriad of thoughts flitted through my mind, would a renowned institution celebrated in Nairobi, Kenya – its headquarters, for its high-level quality research and researchers be received in a similar manner here? One could only hope.

Stemming from an idea formed years ago, this day marked years of deliberation, debate, and decision-making which had finally born fruit. In that moment, I recalled my first day at APHRC two months before, where all the chatter in the corridors was about the Center opening its doors in Dakar, Senegal. The numerous committees formed, the teams tasked with the production and the coordination of guests from near and far – preparation was at its peak. By watching the seamless flow of the day’s events, one could easily underestimate the sheer amount of work put in by countless individuals to organize and produce the launch.

Slowly, but punctually, the guests began to fill the room. Their promptness, a tell-tale sign of a new region.  As Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi, the Executive Director of APHRC took to the stage, the room fell silent. She took the audience on a journey as she recounted the evolution of the institution, from inception to the present day.  “Our origins are grounded in the belief that Africa needed its own cadre of highly trained, well-resourced scientists, raised and nurtured in our own African institutions,” she said.

It is no secret that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 13.5% of the global population, but produces only 1% of global research. As a result, many African countries have remained bystanders in the important global discourse on development. This can be seen in the under-representation of Francophone West and Central Africa in the global agenda-setting and decision-making forums which has, in turn, hampered the development and growth of the region.

To engage Africa proactively, a broadened approach is necessary. One that takes into account Africa’s background, biases and fully represents the diversity of the continent. So APHRC’s expansion into the region is not only timely but will give way for the many uncounted African voices to be heard. This was highlighted by the Government of Senegal’s support for the launch of the West Africa office. Papa Alassane Mbengue, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Health and Social Action served as the chief guest at the launch. “Through APHRC’s framework, there is an opportunity for African researchers to improve and transform the management of health and population systems not only in this country but for the African population at large,” he said.

What struck me most as a newcomer to APHRC was the breadth of work being done at the institution. Aside from the 60 projects being implemented simultaneously across the continent, what I found most commendable was the commitment to African voices resonating within important conversations. Its research division that is home to both scientists and researchers from over 12 African countries covers disciplines ranging from biostatistics to epidemiology, pathology and demography; to anthropology and sociology. Its fellowship programs are championing a new generation of research leaders for Africa by instilling habits of best practice. In addition, the Center is also leveraging evidence to achieve necessary changes in policy and practice that is in turn leading to better outcomes for African populations. As Dr. Kyobutungi succinctly said, “it is a high time that African evidence – generated, interpreted, synthesized and used by African actors –  is in the driver’s seat.”

The Center is an evolving institution that celebrates collaboration and partnership in an effort to ensure that local voices are heard in global development efforts. It aims to change future conversations by providing evidence-based research and alternative perspectives from an exceptionally talented team of researchers. So not only will APHRC’s expansion into West Africa solidify the commitment to ensure that we have a truly African presence across the continent, but it will strengthen our already existing bonds.

The Forum for African Women Educationalists(FAWE) president, Mme Anta Basse Konté spoke with pride at being APHRC’s first partner to co-implement a project on improving girls’ access to education. “We commit to working together with the government to help push girls’ education to the forefront of our country’s development agenda. We commit to working with APHRC to generate the evidence that the government needs to make girls’ education a priority, and to demonstrate that we are all together for girls.”

Board Chair, Dr. Tamara Fox ended the event promising that the Center will continue to transform lives with evidence as an African pioneer and incubator of African leadership.

The journey ahead looks promising.

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By Siki Kigongo.


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