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November 17, 2010

UW part of team to transform medical education in Africa

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

The UW will team up with the University of Nairobi as part of a massive effort to transform African medical education and increase the number of health care workers.

UW won funding through the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) — a $130 million investment over five years funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The grants are being awarded directly to African institutions in a dozen countries. These institutions are working in partnership with U.S. medical schools and universities. The initiative will form a network of about 30 regional partners, country health and education ministries, and more than 20 U.S. collaborators.

The program is designed to support PEPFAR’s goals to train and retain 140,000 new health care workers and improve the capacity of partner countries to deliver primary health care.

“As we transition PEPFAR-supported HIV efforts from an emergency response to a more sustainable effort, we need to develop the expertise necessary for evidence-based decision making on the local level,” said Ambassador Eric Goosby, U.S. global AIDS coordinator at the Department of State.

Eleven programmatic awards, largely funded by PEPFAR, will expand and enhance medical education and research training in the field of HIV/AIDS. UW won one of these awards — a $9.5 million grant over five years to work with the University of Maryland and the University of Nairobi, said Dr. Carey Farquhar, UW associate professor of medicine, epidemiology and global health and the co-principal investigator of the programmatic award.

Farquhar said the UW is adapting the highly successful model of medical education used in the five WWAMI states (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) to expand clinical training outside of Nairobi into 12 rural sites.  As part of this effort, The UW will provide distance learning and innovative mobile-phone applications developed by the UW Department of Computer Science and Engineering. As in the WWAMI model, UW and University of Nairobi will recruit local physicians and train and accredit them. They then can mentor the medical students, interns, and residents.

“We think this effort to provide decentralized education will have a major public health impact,” said Farquhar.

The UW also won a $2.5 million linked award to help countries develop expertise in maternal and child health.  Eight smaller non-HIV/AIDS awards, funded by the NIH Director’s Common Fund, with additional support from several NIH institutes, also were awarded to encourage the development of expertise in topics such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, mental health, surgery and emergency medicine, as well as maternal and child health.

“Non-communicable diseases, such as maternal-child health issues, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mental illness, represent the fastest growing causes of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, “said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins. ”We at NIH are delighted to join hands with our colleagues in PEPFAR to help build research and clinical capacity in these important areas of human health.”

The UW has a more than 20-year history in HIV/AIDS research in Kenya. These awards allow the UW to take a broader look at capacity building in the East African nation.

“These awards enable us to work with other schools and departments at the University of Nairobi,” said Farquhar. “This multidisciplinary approach is exciting.”

Farquhar and Dr. James Kiarie of University of Nairobi are co-principal investigators of the programmatic award.  Dr. Grace John Stewart from the UW and Dr. Dalton Wamalwa at the University of Nairobi are the co-principal investigators of the linked award in maternal child health.

These investigators have worked together for a long time.

Both Kiarie and Wamalwa received their training in public health at UW and have worked with UW colleagues on numerous research and training grants. Wamalwa is now in Seattle visiting Children’s Hospital and helping create a global health training program for residents in pediatrics.

“We are all very tight,” said Farquhar. She said she was in the same public health cohort as Kiarie a decade ago. They have shared many experiences since then.

Meanwhile, UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) will do the monitoring and evaluation portion of the project.

A coordinating center is being established to link the African sites and their U.S. partners, leverage shared resources and provide technical expertise. A web-based platform will be developed to allow all partners to share data and outcomes. The platform will facilitate evaluation and provide a gateway to maximize the initiative’s global impact.  MEPI will enable participating institutions to strengthen their information technology infrastructure, support distance education and data sharing, and encourage the establishment of clinical registries to inform research and health care decision making on national levels. The coordinating center will also form an African leadership network to guide and advocate for the initiative.

NIH funding is being provided by the Common Fund, Office of AIDS Research, Office of Research on Women’s Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and National Institute of Nursing Research.

See the complete list of awards and collaborating partner. Winners were announced Oct. 7.