The Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) consortium is an initiative of the Wellcome Trust (UK) and the National Institutes of Health (USA), in partnership with the African Society of Human Genetics. In October 2015, at the consortium’s 7th meeting in Washington DC, the Director of NIH, Dr Francis Collins, announced that the consortium’s funding would be extended for a further five years.
H3Africa was launched in 2010 with the overarching aim of improving health in Africa by facilitating and promoting the use of genomic approaches in the study of common non-communicable and communicable diseases. It has an active capacity building programme, providing training, establishing infrastructure for bioinformatics and biorepositories and developing networks of collaborative research across Africa. Through these activities, H3Africa seeks to increase the participation of African populations in genomic research, thereby enabling them to benefit from global advances in this field. The consortium currently spans 27 countries and has more than 500 investigators.
The consortium’s biannual conferences are an opportunity for investigators, independent experts, and students involved in the range of projects funded by H3Africa, to report on progress and share experiences about their research. They also provide a forum in which funders and other stakeholders, including community leaders, government and industry, can interact with researchers and better understand the research of the consortium.
I was privileged to attend the most recent conference in my capacity as a fellow of the H3Africa Diabetes Study – a pan-Africa study of the epidemiology of type 2 diabetes (T2D) funded by the Wellcome Trust. Its main objective is to identify genetic and environmental determinants of T2D in sub-Saharan Africa to inform preventative and therapeutic strategies. The conference was an opportunity for the study group, including the lead PI (from South Africa) and co-PIs from study sites in Tanzania and Nigeria, to discuss the progress of the study and in particular explore the challenges of data collection and the innovative schemes, that have led to an increase in community engagement.
Across the wider consortium, significant progress was reported with regards to sample collection, training of scientists, and the development of an H3Africa custom microarray chip. It was quite evident that H3Africa has disproved it’s sceptics and is succeeding, not only by expanding genomic research in Africa, but also in ensuring that it is led by African scientists. In my view, the extension of funding will complete Africa’s transition from being a non-participant to an active contributor to, and beneficiary of, global genomic research.