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Monday, 1 September marked the opening of the new academic year for many Dutch universities, including the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Dr. Louise Gunning-Schepers, President of the UvA Executive Board, started with a remembrance of those lost in the MH17 disaster, including an UvA student, an UvA alumnus and our colleagues Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren. In light of this year’s African theme, four colleagues from PharmAccess and the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD) were invited to share their Africa-related work.

The University of Amsterdam collaborates with a variety of partners with the aim of linking the research and education sectors all over the world. This year they zoomed into their activities and partnerships in Africa. To showcase some of these long-lasting collaborations and UvA’s dense network our four speakers were invited to the stage to present their projects. As the first speaker, Zlata Tanovic introduced AIGHD and focused on the theme: ‘progress through partnership: the UvA and Africa’ which illustrated what working as a researcher entails. She concludes by saying that ‘I believe that academic collaboration between developed countries and Africa is an important way to strengthen local academic institutions, and helps to build a flourishing academic environment in Africa.’

Marleen Hendriks continued on this note, showcasing her research on cardiovascular disease prevention in a health insurance program in rural Nigeria and the impact of the results. During her research she collaborated with local academic institutions which resulted in interesting outcomes. ‘We showed that quality of care for high blood pressure in one of the insurance clinics was comparable to quality of care in high income countries. And access to this care reduced blood pressure in patients. This is a very important outcome because if we can bring down blood pressure, we can greatly reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks. This will save lives and prevent families from falling into poverty due to illness.’

Showcasing a new perspective, the third speaker Steven van de Vijver interestingly showed that his research on cardiovascular disease can actually trigger reverse innovation, meaning that his four-step model ‘from awareness to compliance’ developed in and for Kenya can be applied in Amsterdam to cover an area not addressed by the traditional Dutch public health system. ‘After exactly hundred years since Albert Schweitzer came to Africa to offer medical assistance, African solutions are coming our way to treat our Western lifestyle diseases’ explains Steven.

African solutions can also be a source of innovation, and as the fourth speaker Kees van Lede explains, calling them ‘leapfrogging opportunities.’ His project with MPESA and SafariCom shows how a mobile money payment model, which is extremely successful in Kenya, goes beyond what the western society is implementing today. He showed the audience that we have a lot to learn from this phenomenon, and rounds off the opening ceremony by concluding that Africa is a continent of innovation and great potential.

In order to share stories of researchers like Zlata, Steven, Marleen and Kees, the UvA published a book: ‘Progress through Partnerships: the UvA and Afrika.’ This book is dedicated to the memory of Joep and Jacqueline. To read it please click here