My Reflections on the AfOx Visiting Fellowship Program

Dr Stephen B Kennedy, is from Liberia and trained in general medicine, infectious disease epidemiology, international health and biomedical research in Liberia, the United States, and Zambia, respectively. He was an 2020-21 AfOx Visiting Fellow at Merton College, University of Oxford. He shares his thoughts about the program and his experience as a fellow.


One of the key challenges facing senior researchers at academic institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is the lack of fit-for-purpose models that fosters north-south or south-south collaborations to strengthen country-specific public health systems. Collaborative efforts that collectively strengthen research infrastructure, build targeted user-friendly capacity, and train cadres of young researchers have the potential to meaningful investigate and mitigate emerging health issues.

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in Liberia resulted in a significant rise in clinical research. Prior to 2014, there were less than six studies, but from 2014 to 2022, there were over 27 clinical research efforts. However, there are still major challenges in establishing sustainable research infrastructure, developing independent research programs, enhancing targeted research skills for young investigators, and expanding research portfolios for senior researchers.

The Africa Oxford Initiative Visiting Fellowship program is an innovative initiative that has the potential to gradually improve the research landscape in Africa and enhance scholarly productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. The AfOx Visiting Fellowship Program aims to provide a productive research environment for exceptional and established African researchers. The researchers can leverage the resources and expertise available at Oxford University to establish long-term institutional collaborations between North and South.

During the fellowship, we learned that African researchers share research notes and tips, identify gaps in knowledge and expertise, and seek cross-country strategies through collaborative efforts. This is a valuable component of the program. While not specified, it is important to note the significance of these efforts and their potential impact.

I consider myself lucky to have been part of the Senior Visiting Research Fellowship Program at Oxford University for a duration of 6 months.

During my time as an AfOx Fellow, I was granted unencumbered access to institutional resources, such as human resource expertise, internet services, and library platforms. Additionally, I conducted the first organized research study to assess the feasibility of implementing genomic research in Liberia. I authored one manuscript and submitted another for peer-review. I also took part in various regional and global webinars, sat on expert and advisory committees for clinical research in Africa, and became a member of multiple professional networks that could potentially result in future research partnerships and fellowship opportunities.

Additionally, I had the opportunity to present my research findings at three international conferences. I also shared my experiences in scientific and health leadership during the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in Liberia with the academic community at Oxford. In collaboration with a colleague from Oxford, I submitted two competitive grant applications on public health emergencies and outbreak response, among other endeavors.

Lastly, I had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from West Africa and identify common research priorities and areas where we can strengthen our capacity. We plan to continue these collaborations in the short- and long-term to promote effective and sustainable research. This has also helped to increase the visibility of my research and could potentially lead to future clinical research collaborations with Oxford and senior fellowship opportunities in the European Union.

If it weren't for the fellowship I received at Oxford University, I wouldn't have been able to achieve the collaborative efforts I mentioned, particularly those involving north-south and south-south initiatives. Moreover, the research platform at Oxford has the potential to serve as a useful channel and effective catalyst for promoting, strengthening, and sustaining the fundamental pillars of collaborative research frameworks among Visiting African Researchers. I eagerly anticipate the replication of this model in other academic institutions that are resource-rich and research-intensive, as well as the subsequent evaluation of its impact.