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Reversing Brain Drain Through DELTAS Africa

Reversing Brain Drain Through DELTAS Africa

Ten years ago, Lily Paemka left Ghana for the United States to pursue her PhD studies and stayed. Her talent and skill could have been lost to Ghana forever had the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) not been established.  

“I’m glad to be back,” Paemka says. “It feels great. Since I’ve been back, there have been more opportunities here than I even anticipated. First of all, I get to see my family and I get the opportunity to train young scientists, which is exciting. Even though I haven’t been back that long, I already feel it’s fulfilling.”  

She returned to Ghana in 2017 to conduct research on a type of breast cancer that is most aggressive among Black women. The strain, known as Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), has a mortality rate of around 50% among Ghanaian women and Paemka focuses her talents and the resources provided by DELTAS Africa-funded WACCBIP 
on characterising the genetic risk factors of the disease. Her research aims to better understand the genetic architecture of breast cancer among Black women.  

“I wanted to focus on breast cancer because it’s one of the leading causes of death among Ghanaian women and data suggest women here get breast cancer 10 years earlier than women in the developed world,” she says. “So, the idea is to identify genes that predispose Ghanaian women to the disease and find genetic markers that can be used to identify therapeutic targets, and of course develop drugs, ultimately.”  

DELTAS Africa offers conducive research environments to conduct research and develop world-class researchers, opportunities that are not easily available on the continent.  

Paemka’s story, which is increasingly becoming common, shows the impact investing in health research can have on efforts to reverse brain drain.  

WACCBIP has achieved this kind of success by recruiting scientists working on genetic markers for autism and hearing loss, those examining factors that increase the risk of sickle cell patients developing cardiovascular conditions, and investigators discovering new targets for malaria vaccines. Some of these diseases are mostly endemic in Africa and so may fail to attract global investment.  

Through DELTAS Africa, The AAS and partners are investing in the creation of conducive environments for scientists to increase rates of returning or retention on the continent to research on Africa’s health priorities.  

The programme also contributes opportunities for scientists like Paemka to transition from an early career scientist to a senior scientist and attract more funding to research on Africa’s priorities, as well as train younger scientists.  

DELTAS Africa is demonstrating the value of investing in science to strengthen research ecosystems and ensure that more African researchers stay on or return to the continent.