Mapping supply chain and procurement barriers for basic medical research in Africa


This project maps directly to GCRF Challenge Area '(a) Equitable access to sustainable development – ii) Sustainable health and wellbeing' and the University of Sussex Challenge Area Theme 6: ‘Sustainable supply chain management as an approach for achieving the SDGs’. It involves multiple African institutions through the H3Africa Initiative and the African Association of Sciences (AAS), and specifically partners with Sussex's priority Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries, Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as Eritrea and Cameroon.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being
    SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
    SDG 9  Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
    SDG 10  Reduced Inequalities
    SDG 17  Partnerships for the Goals

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

Capacity building and research output from African institutions is suffering because basic bioscience reagents cannot be sourced in many African countries. This results in catastrophic delays to research projects, adoption of inferior alternative products, exaggerated costs for reagents, or reliance on US and European partners to export consumables. This breakdown of the supply chain represents a roadblock to equitable and sustainable development of bioscience research in Africa, and is hampering national and international research efforts towards global health priorities such as antimicrobial drug resistance, communicable and non-communicable disease prevention. These barriers will continue to persist unless confronted and are likely to become more pressing as direct investment in African bioscience grows.

Africa is home to 15% of the world’s population, yet only 1.3% of world research spending. However, economic growth in Africa has averaged between 3-5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year over the past ten years and this has resulted in rising Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) as a percentage of GDP, with the African Union targeting a minimum of 1% per country. Innovation and entrepreneurial capabilities of African countries have also expanded with the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2015 showing improvements for many African countries. For example, Uganda was classified as an ‘innovation achiever’ for the second time by the GII, moving from 106th in 2011 to 91st in 2014. The number of new small and medium enterprises created has also grown substantially in the past two decadesacross Africa. In addition to this increase in domestic and pan-A frican investment in bioscience research and innovation, a move away from colonial models of US and European funding has seen large increases in research funding allocated directly to African institutions, with 89% of external funding for African research programmes in 2015 coming from US NIH, Wellcome Trust and UK MRC funders. Importantly, establishment of Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Africa (AAEA) and Coalition for Research and Innovation (CARI) agencies by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) provides a platform for a pan-African research and innovation strategy as investment in African bioscience grows. This project will map the political, economic and social barriers to the procurement of life science consumables in Africa, and suggest supply-chain risk strategies to mitigate the problem, through the experience of African institutes involved in the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative, focusing specifically on DAC-list countries Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Cameroon.

Central to this problem is a supply chain mapping exercise with bottleneck identification, requiring a nested case study design including stakeholders to identify bottlenecks along the supply chain. This analysis will inform the solution based on supply chain risk management approaches that allows the supply chain to be optimised. The solution could, based on the analysis, foresee incentives for spreading inventories across supply chains, contractual adjustments,  build-up of additional suppliers, restructuring of supply chains etc. The solution will clearly outline which risk mitigation strategy is most appropriate, while identifying barriers to impact. This will lay the groundwork for workshops to be conducted with involved stakeholders to implement the risk mitigation strategies that will directly enhance availability of missing goods. In order to reach more generalisable solutions, supply chains in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Sudan and Eritrea will be targeted. To make this data collection and dissemination feasible, we will partner with the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) consortium. The H3Africa programme supports 51 projects focused on genome biology research to further the understanding of health and disease in African populations, while also developing infrastructure, resources, training, and ethical guidelines to support a sustainable African research enterprise – led by African scientists, for the African people. The $170 million initiative, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Wellcome Trust, has over 500 consortium members that meet together every Spring and Autumn at the consortium scientific meetings, together with funders and policy advisers.

Interviews will be conducted with:

  • African researchers through the H3Africa Initiative and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS)
  • African and International funders (AESA / The Wellcome Trust / MRC / NIH / H3Africa)
  • Suppliers, intermediaries and logistics providers
  • UK bioscience consumables companies (Sigma, Fisher Scientific)

Key questions:

  • Is bioscience consumables procurement a problem? To what extent? How to quantitate?
  • What are the current alternative options: low-quality substitutes, import through third party at high cost, suitcase or courier from UK/European/US partners
  • What are the central barriers: economic, political, supply chain?
  • Is the problem country-specific or pan-African?
  • Whose problem is it to solve?
  • What local and global solutions exist?
  • Feasibility of different risk mitigation strategies?


  • Highlight the issue to a worldwide audience through high-impact open-access publication and suggest risk mitigation solutions to address the problem.
  • Workshop with stakeholders in Africa to enable the implementation of risk mitigation.
  • Build research collaborations with the H3Africa Initiative, the African Academy of Sciences, major global health bioscience funders (Alliance for Accelerating Science in Africa (AESA), Wellcome Trust, MRC and NIH), and global and African bioscience consumables suppliers (e.g. Fisher Scientific, Sigma).
  • Apply for substantial funding to provide equitable solutions to pan-African and country-specific procurement barriers.
  • Foster GCRF/SSRP multi-disciplinary University of Sussex research partnerships between the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) and the University of Sussex Business School.

Timeline and funding


April 2020-March 2021


SSRP-IDCF funding

The team

  • Principle Investigator (PI) and Co-Investigators

    Principal Investigator

    • Dr Simon Waddell, Brighton and Sussex Medical School


    • Professor Constantin Blome, University of Sussex Business School
    • Dr Anthony Alexander, University of Sussex Business School
    • Professor Samuel Fosso Wamba, TBS Business School, Toulouse
  • Project team
    • Kidist Bobosha, TBGEN Project Lead, Armauer Hansen Research Institute, Ethiopia
    • Samuel Wanji, Professor of Microbiology and Parasitology, University of Buea, Cameroon
    • Muntaser Ibrahim, Professor of Molecular Biology, Institute of Endemic Diseases, University of Khartoum, Sudan
    • Eyoab Iyasu, Assistant Professor at Eritrea Institute of Technology (EiT), Eritrea

Where we worked

Sudan, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Eritrea.