UCL Global


UCL-AHRI partnership tackling infectious diseases secures £72m funding boost

30 August 2023

Researchers at UCL and the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) at the forefront of HIV and TB research in South Africa have been granted more than £72m additional funding from Wellcome.

Africa Health Research Institute building in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The seven-year grant will support AHRI’s pioneering scientific research, focusing on understanding and responding to diseases that are the major causes of illness and death in South Africa. These include: HIV; tuberculosis (TB); emerging infections such as Covid-19, and neglected infections such as hepatitis B; and adolescent mental health.

Located in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, AHRI’s vision is the optimal health and wellbeing of under-resourced populations.

As well as helping AHRI train the next generation of African scientists, the funding will enable the institute to expand its research to address key questions including:

  • How can HIV be prevented in rural communities?
  • How can HIV be cured?
  • How can TB spread be prevented in rural communities?
  • Do new vaccines prevent TB disease?
  • How can new infections such as Covid-19 be identified early and controlled?
  • How can mental health disorders in rural adolescents best be treated?

AHRI Executive Director, Professor Willem Hanekom (UCL Infection & Immunity) said: “This grant is a vote of confidence in our ability to produce excellent scientific research, with demonstrable impact. We believe our broad research value chain, from population to basic sciences, and strong collaborations with communities and other research stakeholders place us in a unique position to address some of the most pressing health challenges facing under-resourced populations globally.”

UCL is a key academic partner for AHRI. Twenty-eight faculty members drive its cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research. AHRI hosts a world-leading health and demographic surveillance system in rural northern KwaZulu-Natal, and its laboratories are among the most sophisticated in Africa.

The institute’s dedicated clinical trials unit tests new vaccines and drugs, while implementation trials are used to find the best ways to bring health innovations to people.

AHRI’s research is coupled with excellent public engagement and extensive collaboration within local and international networks.

Professor Mark Emberton, Dean, UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences, said: “AHRI is a significant partner for UCL in Africa. Our shared commitment to excellence allows for robust academic exchange and opens new avenues for translating research into tools and therapies to benefit the health of under-resourced populations. Wellcome's funding for an additional seven years adds a new chapter of sustainability and progress to our journey.”

In 2021, researchers from London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL and AHRI developed pioneering technology that could transform the ability to accurately interpret HIV test results, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Cheryl Moore, Chief Research Programmes Officer at Wellcome, added: “AHRI is extremely well-positioned to lead world-class research into long-standing threats such as TB and HIV, and is also advancing research into newer, but no less significant, challenges such as Covid-19 and adolescent mental health. AHRI brings together scientific expertise across a diverse range of research fields, coupled with strong links to local communities. Wellcome is proud to continue to partner with AHRI to support outstanding African-led science, working to improve health outcomes for communities in South Africa and across Africa.”


Africa Health Research Institute building in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Credit: AHRI