AFRICA: Universities get US$130 million for health

The US recently announced awards worth US$130 million to universities in a dozen African countries that seek to train at least 140,000 health workers over five years.

The US Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, made the grant available through its Medical Education Partnership Initiative, MEPI.

It will see African medical schools partnering with American higher education institutions to strengthen studies and research in Africa.

Eleven awards, largely funded by PEPFAR, will expand and enhance medical education and research training in the field of HIV-Aids. Eight smaller non-HIV-Aids awards will encourage the development of expertise in topics such as maternal and child health, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, mental health, surgery and emergency medicine.

Some of the countries involved in the initiative are Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Details of the awards and collaborating partners are available from the Fogarty International Center for advanced study in the health sciences.

The University of Botswana, in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania, will work on creating sustainable medical education and enhancing health research capacity in that Southern African country.

In South Africa, the University of KwaZulu-Natal's award will enhance research capacity and expertise in HIV-Aids care.

The university of Zambia is to partner with Vanderbilt University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham in working on improving maternal and child health, among other things.

And the University of Zimbabwe will partner among others with the University of Colorado-Denver, Stanford University and the University of Cape Town to improve mental health education and other disciplines.

A coordinating centre is being established to link the African sites and their US partners while a web-based platform will be developed to allow all partners to share data and outcomes.

The platform will also facilitate evaluation and provide a gateway to maximise the initiative's global impact, with MEPI helping participating institutions strengthen their information technology infrastructure, support distance education and encourage the establishment of clinical registries to inform research and health care decision-making at national level.

In a statement earlier this month, the US embassy in Harare said the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences, UZCHS, had received a US$15 million award under the initiative. The award would cover the Novel Education Clinical Trainees and Researchers (NECTAR) programme and two linked projects over five years.

"MEPI grants are awarded directly to African institutions in a dozen countries, working in partnership with US medical schools and universities. The initiative will form a network of 30 regional partners, country health and education ministries, and more than 20 US collaborators," said the embassy statement.

Professor James Hakim, the programme's principal investigator, said the award had come at an opportune time, when UZCHS was revamping its academic and research capacity in a country slowly emerging from the effects of a decade-long economic and political crisis.

Hakim said it would enable the university to implement programmes aimed at improving undergraduate, postgraduate and faculty training in the areas of clinical management and research capacity, and would encourage a scholarly, inquiring environment at the institution.

PEPFAR, through the Centers for Disease Control in Zimbabwe, is collaborating with the University of Zimbabwe on a number of other initiatives, including a two-year masters degree in public health and the HIV-Aids Quality of Care Initiative.

Launched in 2003 by President George W Bush to fight HIV-Aids, PEPFAR has been lauded as the largest effort by any nation to combat a single disease.