Today sees the start of a week-long training workshop for analytical chemists in Africa, supported by GlaxoSmithKline and the Royal Society of Chemistry. The workshop is taking place at Addis Ababa University from 3–7 October 2016.
The programme was first begun in 2004, in Kenya, by Professor Anthony Gachanja and Dr Steve Lancaster, to train African scientists in the practical application of Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), a widely-used analytical technique, which is crucial in everything from environmental monitoring to drug development and combating counterfeit drugs.
Now, with the help of a new five-year partnership between GSK and the Royal Society of Chemistry's Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN), this training is being rolled out to Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia and will train more than 400 scientists, with participants attending from countries across the continent.
Zoe Zeliku, a volunteer from GSK, first went to Ethiopia in 2010, to work with the Centre for National Health Development in Addis Ababa. Now, she is returning as a trainer to share her expertise and enthusiasm for analytical chemistry.
I've always enjoyed training people, and my background is analytical chemistry", she says.
This training is crucial in Ethiopia and other African countries, because analytical chemistry is so important and specialised.
The economy is growing and there's more manufacturing, so it's important that the scientists in the country themselves have the expertise. Not only will the training help with their current research, but if they're going to start manufacturing their own medicine then it will be beneficial to have analytically trained scientists to back up the quality control process.
Dr Yonas Chebude, Associate Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Addis Ababa, who is hosting the workshop, explains what makes this scheme unique:
Two colleagues, one from Addis Ababa University and one from Bahir Dar University have volunteered to be trainers themselves. After the completion of the scheme, these trainers of trainers are expected to run their own training programs, passing on their skills to colleagues and students in other universities and institutions in Ethiopia and across Africa.
By training local chemists to train others, the scheme will leave a self-sustaining programme and lasting legacy in African science, building a network of in-country expertise and expertise sharing between countries.
Empowering our scientists with practical and analytical skills to solve our African problems is indeed aligned to meeting the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. In addition the programme is sustainable as the trainers are in the region therefore the needs of the scientific fraternity will be addressed. This is indeed a beneficial partnership in our region as it builds on the capacity and capability in our institutions", said Brook Worku, Enterprise General Manager, GlaxoSmithKline Ethiopia.
This course in Ethiopia attracted over 160 applications from 17 different countries across Africa, from researchers at all career stages. Of these a local committee and a trainer from GSK have selected 15 delegates who they feel will benefit most from the scheme. As well as attendees from Ethiopia, delegates are travelling across Africa to attend, from Tanzania, Uganda, South African and Sudan.
Dr Helen Driver, Senior Programme Manager, Africa, at the Royal Society of Chemistry, who manages the programme, is travelling to Ethiopia to attend the workshop. She says she's most looking forward to seeing the participants get the opportunity to get hands-on with the equipment.
The real advantage of this course is that the trainees get the opportunity to take the instrument apart and put it back together", says Helen.
This course will really give participants the confidence to do that. It's important to not be afraid of the equipment. When they return to their institutions they will be able to use their new-found knowledge to maintain the instruments themselves, instead of relying on help from elsewhere.