UK-South Africa Joint Initiative on Mental Health – Deadline 2nd May 2018

The MRC, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) are pleased to invite research proposals to the UK-South Africa mental health initiative.

This Newton Fund initiative will provide funding for high quality collaborative research projects focused on addressing mental health in South Africa.

In total, up to ~£3.43m/ ZAR 56m over three years will be made available for this initiative.

As this is a joint UK/SAMRC initiative, applicants must submit their application to the UK MRC via the Je-S system, but, if successful, the SAMRC will be the awarding body. UKMRC funds will be transferred to the SAMRC, and SAMRC will contract directly with the SA institutions. The SA PI’s institution will then subcontract to the UK PI’s institution to facilitate funds transfer to the UK partner.


The health needs of low and middle income countries (LMICs) are evolving with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now responsible for 40 million deaths per annumopens in new window (70% of all global deaths), a figure projected to rise to 52 million deaths by 2030.

In recognition of this, in 2015 the MRC, the SAMRC, and GSK launched a Joint call on Non-Communicable Diseases in Africa through the Newton Fund. Through this initiative, seven UK-SA collaborative research projects were supported focusing on addressing the burden of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and chronic kidney diseases in Africa.

Building on the success of this initiative, and based on the local disease burden, the MRC, SAMRC, and ESRC are announcing the launch of a second UK-South Africa NCD initiative, which will focus specifically upon mental health in South Africa.

Mental illness represents a major health challenge. Depression is ranked as the single largest contributor to global disability, accounting for 7.5% of all years lived with disability. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, and a similar number from anxiety disorders. Suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death worldwide and is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds. Nearly 800,000 people committed suicide in 2015opens in new window.

The launch of this call follows the success of the UK-South Africa Mental Health workshop which was hosted by SAMRC in Cape Town in October 2017. This workshop was held with a view to further strengthening collaboration between the two countries, and exploring additional opportunities for UK-SA collaboration, specifically in the area of mental health. Details, including the attendees and workshop presentations, are available on our website.

Objectives and scope

The objective of this initiative is to deliver research funding for internationally competitive and innovative collaborative projects between researchers from South Africa and the UK to enable the pursuit of shared research interests.

The research must be conducted through partnerships between South African and UK researchers, with the possibility of researchers from other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa also participating.  The research must be led by and include work in South Africa, but may include work in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The funders are inviting research proposals on child, adolescent and adult age onset mental disordersopens in new window including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance use disorders, addiction, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, neurodevelopmental disorders, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, self-harm and suicide, in South Africa.The funders are welcoming mental health research proposals across the spectrum of research activities including, but not limited to, basic discovery research, epidemiology, understanding the mechanisms of disease, novel detection and diagnosis, development of therapeutics/interventions and care arrangements, investigation of biological, psychological, social, environmental and/or economic determinants of disease and their interactions, public health research and the impact of different public and practitioner understandings of mental health and stigma.

Research proposals must seek to generate outcomes of relevance to the prevention, treatment, and/or management of mental disorders in South Africa.

The funders are to use this initiative to expand UK-South African research partnerships, and so are particularly encouraging applications from collaborative groups led on the South African side by researchers at previously disadvantaged institutions. In addition, proposals addressing mental health challenges in more than one South African province are encouraged.

The purpose of this call is to support research projects; however, the funders would also encourage research projects that incorporate elements of capacity building where appropriate.

For queries relating to the scope of this call, please contact: or Candice Roux

Project duration and funding

Projects must start in both the UK and South Africa by 1 January 2019. Projects may be up to three years in length and so must have completed by 1 December 2021.

Funding available

MRC and ESRC will collectively make up to £2m available for this initiative. SAMRC will provide up to ZAR 24 million. In total, the funders will, therefore, make up to approximately £3.43m/ ZAR 56m available.

Support for the UK collaborators will be made available at a rate in line with standard MRC/ESRC funding arrangements and at 80% fEC.

SA PIs must abide by SAMRC general terms and conditions of funding.

The funders’ contributions to this initiative will form a ‘collective pot’ which it is expected will support both the UK and South African components of 5-10 collaborative research projects. Given the funding available, it is not anticipated that any individual research project would request over ~ £1.5m/ ZAR 24 million; researchers should contact if they are considering requesting over and above this amount.

The outputs of the research must primarily benefit the South African population, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable within South African society, and there is an expectation that most of the research will take place in South Africa. However, the funders are also looking to support genuinely collaborative endeavours, with equivalent contributions on both the UK and South African sides.

The difference in values should reflect the difference in costs covered and local prices. The agencies also expect the costs on each side to accurately reflect the research effort to be carried out.

For further information, please read the scheme specific Guidance for Applicants.


This call will fund partnerships between UK and South African based researchers working in the area of mental health. It is important to note that:

  • This is an open call; applicants do not need to have attended the UK-South Africa workshop in order to apply.
  • The funding agencies will not play a further brokering role in this call.
  • The proposal should be jointly developed by a South African PI and a UK PI. The UK PI will lead on the administration of the application. If successful, the South African PI will be the administrative lead when liaising with SAMRC.
  • This call is a ‘managed mode’ call being run by the MRC on behalf of the MRC and ESRC. Therefore, Research Organisations that are eligible to apply to the MRC, for example, MRC Units and Institutes, may apply to this call.  Other research organisations that are typically eligible to apply to ESRC, but not the MRC, should contact as soon as possible so that we can explore amending the Research Organisation’s eligibility status for this specific call (please see the independent research organisation list in new window for more information).
  • For support under this call, applicants must be eligible to apply for funding from their respective country’s funding agency.In South Africa, any institution approved by the Minister of Science and technology for NRF funding is eligible to apply. Further,
    • Registered not-for-profit research organisations are eligible to apply.
    • Intramural and extramural SAMRC research units are eligible to apply.
    • South African Principal Investigators must be South African citizens or permanent residence holders.
    • For-profit institutions are NOT eligible.

All proposals for this call must meet Newton Fund requirements. In particular, proposals must be compliant with Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding rules. For further information see the Newton Fund ODA page.opens in new window

Principal Investigators may only submit one application to this scheme as Principal Investigator but may be involved in more applications if listed as a Co-Investigator.

Further eligibility details for this research call can be found in the scheme specific guidance document.

The research must be led by and include work in South Africa, but can also include work in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The funders are not seeking to support partnerships outside of the UK or Sub-Saharan Africa through this initiative. Please contact if you are planning to involve co-investigators from outside of the UK or Africa in your proposal.

Key dates

 Closing date for Investigators to submit expression of interest   forms  Wednesday 28 March 2018
 Deadline for Investigators to submit full proposal (via the Je-S   systemopens in new window, please refer to the applicant guidance)  Wednesday 2 May 2018 (16:00 UK time)
 Panel Meeting  Week commencing 24 September 2018
 Grants begin  January 2019

Application guideline and process

In order to identify peer reviewers and convene assessment panels in advance, it is important that researchers indicate their intention to submit by completing an expression of interest form.  Please email with an expression of interest by Wednesday 28 March 2018.

Full applications must be submitted by UK PI’s on behalf of both UK and South Africa PIs to the MRC via the Je-S application systemopens in new window by 16:00 BST Wednesday 2 May 2018.

Pre-award process

Please note, this is a jointly led UK-South Africa initiative.

UK’s MRC will manage the pre-award stage which includes the following:

  • Manage receipt of the expression of interest.
  • Manage receipt of written applications via Je-S system.
  • Manage the peer review process.
  • Engage with PI on peer reviewed comments.

Applicants must, therefore, submit their jointly written application to the UK MRC via the Je-S systemopens in new windowplease see the applicant guidance.

Post-award process

SAMRC will manage the post award process of the grants which includes the following:

  • Sending successful grants award letters to PIs.
  • SAMRC will only conclude a funding agreement with the South African PI’s host institutions. The UK PI should then be subcontracted by the South African Institution. SAMRC will not be contracting directly with any UK institution.
  • Manage the grants for the lifetime of the project.

Assessment process and decision making process

To be funded, proposals must be internationally competitive and at a standard equivalent to that normally expected to be supported by each funding organisation.

Key assessment criteria for the submissions will be:

  • Significance and Impact of the research.
  • Scientific Rationale: novelty, importance and timeliness of the research.
  • Design and Feasibility of the Project Plan.
  • Partnership: including strength and clarity of collaborations and opportunities provided, quality of the project management structure proposed; the added value of the UK-South African collaboration.
  • Quality and suitability of the research environment and of the facilities.
  • Value for money for South African and UK research.
  • Ethical considerations and governance arrangements.
  • Opportunities for capacity building and transformation.

The primary criterion for project selection will be the research excellence of the proposed project. However, the funders are keen to expand UK-South African research partnerships and to use this initiative to encourage the participation of previously disadvantaged South African institutions; the involvement of these research institutions across the portfolio of grants funded through this call will, therefore, be a consideration for the decision-making panel. This is also a requirement of South African legislation.

The panel may also take into consideration the balance of the portfolio of projects in terms of the mental health disorders being addressed.

In addition, applicants must describe how the proposed research is Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliant [approximately 150 words]. This section will be made publicly available. For further information on ODA, please see the Newton Fund guidanceopens in new window. Applications will be assessed for ODA-compliance before the peer review process and will not be assessed if the funders do not feel the proposed work is ODA compliant.

Eligible applications will be externally peer reviewed, and applicants will be offered the opportunity to provide a written response to these reviews.

Following this process, applications will be assessed by a joint MRC-SAMRC Review Panel in summer/autumn 2018.

Funding decisions will be made through a joint process.

The Newton Fund

The Newton Fund builds scientific and innovation partnerships with 18 partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries. The Newton Fund is managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 15 UK Delivery Partners, which include the Research Councils, the UK National Academies, the British Council, Innovate UK and the Met Office.

For further information visit the Newton Fund homepage and follow via Twitter: @NewtonFund

Contacts and guidance

Please read the scheme specific Guidance for ApplicantsMRC Guidance for Applicants and Award Holders.

For further information, UK applicants should contact the MRC International team:

For further information, South African applicants should contact Candice Roux.

Link to website:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.