Catalysing health R&D, innovation and access

South African Health Technologies Advocacy Coalition

SAHTAC attends Grand Challenges annual meeting in Dakar

The 2023 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting (GCAM) held under the theme “Science Saves Lives” took place in Dakar Senegal from 08 – 11 October 2023 to explore how the global health community can expand the frontiers of science and innovation to save and improve lives.  This year’s annual meeting marks the 20th anniversary of the GCAM. The meeting brings together funders and research partners throughout the Grand Challenges network and beyond. The meeting was attended by more than 1,400 scientists, policymakers, and donors.  Through the series of scientific tracks, plenaries, roundtables and site meetings, the Grand Challenges meeting discussed key issues in improving pandemic preparedness and response and to unlock global health equity between global emergencies. The meeting was co-hosted by the Global Grand Challenges network of partners, and sponsored by Grand Challenges Canada, the United States Agency for International Development, Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Over four days, the meeting featured a set of more than 15 scientific tracks, three mainstage plenary sessions, more than 20 roundtable discussions, poster sessions, creative moments, and over 100 side meetings focused on how collaboration, scientists and leaders across the Research and Development (R&D) space can accelerate innovation for impact. Notably, this year’s meeting featured a focus on catalyzing equitable use of artificial intelligence in low- and middle-income countries, as well as the maiden inclusion of the activist and advocates community.

The GCAM supported by the Bill and Malinda gates Foundation, promotes crowdsourcing solutions for requests to grant proposals in areas such as global health science and innovation. This was the first time the annual meeting has been held in West Africa.  Today, the Grand Challenges family of initiatives uses Challenges – launched as open requests for grant proposals – to focus attention and effort on solving key global health and development problems for those most in need. Guided by the belief that we can go further and faster together to achieve our mission, Grand Challenges catalyzes a research and funding networks that fosters collaboration among researchers and implementors and alignment of funders. For the last two decades, this community has been gathering at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting to advance scientific progress and advocate for ongoing investment for global health science and innovation.

1.    Welcoming remarks.

Cheikh Oumar Seydi, Director, Africa, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, South Africa welcomed meeting attendees to Dakar, Senegal and introduces his excellence honourable H.E President Azali Assoumani.

2.    Keynote address: H.E; President Azali Assoumani.  

President Azali Assoumani of the Union of the Comoros and chairperson of the African Union discussed the importance of addressing global health challenges and the efforts that the African Union and the Union of the Comoros will continue to take to overcome those challenges. President Azali emphasized on women’s health innovations, regional vaccine manufacturing initiatives and steps taken to ensure effective and efficient health care systems that provide care and respond to the needs of local communities by ensuring greater access for all. President Azali concluded his address by introducing H.E Macky Sall, Republic of Senegal President.

3.    Opening Keynote; H.E. President; Macky Sall

In his opening remarks, President Sall acknowledged all dignitaries and participants. He thanked H.E. Azali Assoumani, President of the Union of the Comoros and current chairperson of the African Union, Mr Bill Gates and all members of his foundation present. He is honoured to welcome Bill Gates in Senegal and complemented him for his “Windows” innovation in late 1980s and early 1990s.

He sees this annual Grand Challenge meeting as part of the spirit of solidarity in human fraternity. It is indeed for scientific community, funders and policy makers, a platform to exchange a dialogue to stimulate research, innovation and financing in order to take up major challenges in the health and development. Such efforts are needed hence the theme for this years’ meeting is “Science Saves Lives”.

Indeed, “Science Saves Lives” by contributing to improving our understanding of disease prevention to diagnosis and especially treatment of scientific progress which has a cost in order to be efficient and address the needs of majority. Scientific research must be supported and financed adequately. The COVID-19 epidemic has revealed a lot, it showed the status of lack of global preparedness in a context of many challenges in a globalised world of exchange and intense interaction. The pandemic has taught us that in the face of these global challenges which knows no boundaries, no country can feel secure while others are still vulnerable. He commented the BMGF for its support to innovations such as GAVI and COVAX. He further commented the BMGF for its $30 Million investment in Research and Development announced during the opening of the GCAM. President Sall concluded his opening remarks by providing the history of GCAM since its inception in Seattle, United State in 2003.

4.    Keynote Remarks: Innovation Saves Lives

Keynote Remarks: Bill Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United States.

Bill Gates reflects on 20 years of the Grand Challenges program, highlighting the progress made since 2003 and emphasizing the need for further innovation, use of equitable Artificial Intelligence, more flexible regulatory processes, investment in infrastructure, and increased funding for global health research to accelerate progress and ultimately achieve the goal of a healthier world for all.

Please see for a full speech:

5.    Aurum’s participation at the Grant Challenge Annual meeting

Two poster presentations were accepted for The Aurum Institute at the GCAM 2023. The first, “Translation of Two-Way Texting VMMC Evidence into Policy and Practice in South Africa”, authored by Geoffrey Setswe, Jacqueline Pienaar, Felex Ndebele, Rachel Mukora, Calsile Khumalo with collaborators from the University of Washington and the International Training and Education Center for Health.  The study presented an innovative strategy for enhancing Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) in sub-Saharan Africa through a 2-week text (2wT) follow-up system. This research underscores the critical role of mobile technology in healthcare, particularly in regions where VMMC uptake remains crucial yet challenging. By leveraging the simplicity of SMS, the team has established a lifeline between patients and healthcare providers, ensuring swift, effective communication post-operation. This approach has not only proven essential for immediate triage, patient education, and referral for adverse events but also stands out as a cost-effective method, reducing the financial burden traditionally associated with post-operative care.

The second poster, “Operationalizing an Ethical Framework for AI-Supported Antibiotic Prescribing”, authored by Nana Kofi Quakyi, Nana Eghele Adade, Rirhandzu Makamu, George Amoo Adjei, Ezequiel Ossemane, Sue le Roux, Jeff Weiser, and Dave Clark, focuses on a groundbreaking approach to tackling the global health crisis posed by antimicrobial resistance (AMR), particularly in African nations like Ghana. This crisis is exacerbated by inappropriate antibiotic prescribing practices. Their project introduces an AI-supported tool designed to assist clinicians by offering context-aware antibiotic prescribing recommendations. The project operationalizes a comprehensive set of ethical principles, ensuring that the tool upholds values such as fairness, precision, respect for humanity, and trustworthiness. Their ‘Ethics by Design’ approach integrates insights from bioethics, the AI4People framework, and the African philosophy of Ubuntu, promoting a healthcare solution that is not only cutting-edge but also deeply rooted in moral responsibility and communal well-being. This project was also one of 8 projects featured during the AI Grantee Showcase held on October 8, 2023, prior to the official opening, which attracted an audience of policymakers, researchers, AI solution developers and grantees, and journalists from around the world/

6.    Policy and Advocacy Partners Meeting

The two days Policy, Advocacy in Global Health Research and Development partner’s meeting took place from 12 to 13 October 23 in Senegal, Dakar. This was a close meeting attended by more than 60 partners funded by Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation. The first day of the meeting deliberated on the use of Policy Data and Evidence to inform the past Global Health R&D Investment and planning for the future.  Partners spend day two discussing means and strategies needed to increase the Global health Research and Development Funding. Day 2 also deliberated on how Gates Funded partners can accelerate market product introduction and equitable access through policy engagement. The meeting concluded with round table discussion on how partner can collaborate in future work.

7.    Grand Challenges opportunities.

At the 2023 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting, participants were presented with two notable grant opportunities from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at fostering innovative solutions to global health and development challenges:

2023 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting Call-to-Action: This grant is designed for attendees who, inspired by the discussions and collaborations at the meeting, have identified a novel problem and potential solution within the scientific tracks of the conference. The foundation is encouraging applications for ideas sparked specifically by participation in the meeting, with a focus on collaboration and innovation. Successful proposals are eligible for two types of awards: Collaborative Pilot awards of $200,000 USD for projects involving partnership and collaboration, or Pilot awards of $100,000 USD for other promising proposals. The deadline for applications is December 6, 2023.

Collaboratory Platforms: This initiative focuses on projects that necessitate access to advanced technologies and specialized expertise, particularly in areas critical for advancing global health solutions, such as vaccines, biologics, immune monitoring, biomarker discovery, and host-pathogen interactions. The grant supports the comprehensive development of proposals, from design and execution to data analysis and interpretation, providing a robust platform for groundbreaking discoveries. Awards for this opportunity can reach up to $250,000 USD. Interested participants must submit their applications by December 6, 2022.

The Foundation also announced several other grant opportunities under the Grand Challenges initiative for different regions like Senegal, Brazil, South Africa, Ethiopia, Africa, and India, with a common theme of leveraging AI to enhance global health, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Another call focuses on improving childcare models in South Asia and Africa to advance women’s economic power.












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