Global Health

October 4, 2012

Grant helps expand health care, education programs in Zambia

Vanderbilt University is dramatically expanding its health care and education activities in the southern African nation of Zambia.

Vanderbilt University is dramatically expanding its health care and education activities in the southern African nation of Zambia.

Vanderbilt researchers and their Zambian colleagues are developing and deploying new diagnostic technologies to help combat the spread of malaria, thanks to a recently awarded grant totaling nearly $350,000 in first-year funding from the National Institutes of Health (grant No. 1D43TW009348-01).

The University of Zambia’s Selestine Nzala, M.D., MPH, left, talks with Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., during a recent visit to Vanderbilt.

The project, Vanderbilt-Zambia Network for Innovation in Global Health Technologies (VZNIGHT), will team Vanderbilt and Zambian research trainees in multiple Zambian institutions, including the Malaria Institute at Macha, the University of Zambia, the National Malaria Control Centre and the Tropical Diseases Research Centre.

In addition, the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH) is partnering with the University of Zambia (UNZA) to train health care providers in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The Vanderbilt grants and expertise, and the programs they support, are helping to stem Zambia’s “brain drain,” said Selestine Nzala, M.D., MPH, assistant dean of Post-Graduate Medical Education at UNZA, who visited Nashville recently to help strengthen and expand burgeoning partnerships with Vanderbilt.

“We are now able to supplement some students to do research, which helps us keep talented doctors and researchers in the country,” Nzala said. “As we grow and develop our programs further, we hope to eventually become self-sufficient in our health care needs.”

In the past two years, through ongoing collaborations with VIGH’s AIDS International Research & Training Program (AITRP), UNZA has added 17 new programs at the postgraduate and graduate level and increased its student population significantly to respond to Zambia’s growing HIV/AIDS health crisis.

Last year alone, UNZA students published 11 articles in peer-reviewed research publications and presented abstracts at three international conferences, including the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. — a significant increase from past years.

“Without the support of Vanderbilt, we wouldn’t have been able to do that,” said Nzala.

Vanderbilt faculty have had deep roots in Zambia since 1998, said Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., director of the VIGH, who has launched multiple educational, research and service collaborations with UNZA, as well as in other areas of Zambia.

“Under the joint leadership of Dr. Nzala, Dean Fastone Goma and former Dean Yakub Mulla, vibrant education reform is occurring at UNZA,” said Vermund. “Dr. Nzala is one of the premier, leading lights in medical education in Zambia, and Vanderbilt is honored to contribute to his efforts.

“We are further pleased to continue working with his predecessor, Dr. Kasonde Bowa, now dean of the new Copperbelt University School of Medicine in Ndola, Zambia,” said Vermund.

Copperbelt University is part of the newly-established Consortium of New Southern African Medical Schools (CONSAMS), and is working closely with Vanderbilt’s Quentin Eichbaum, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, assistant dean for Program Development at the School of Medicine and associate professor of Pathology, to share experiences and resources between medical schools in the region.

And with Vanderbilt Internal Medicine faculty member Ben Andrews, M.D., now working in Zambia on a full-time basis, VUSM is currently in discussion with UNZA to develop a “master agreement” that will allow Vanderbilt Internal Medicine residents and fellows, among other residency program students, to receive hands-on training at UNZA’s University Teaching Hospital and within the university’s Department of Medicine.

Douglas Heimburger, M.D., professor of Medicine and associate director for Education and Training at VIGH, said collaborative activities with UNZA offer a wealth of benefits to Vanderbilt students.

“It’s an opportunity for our own graduate or postdoctoral clinical trainees to get exposure to science and medical care in settings where the resources, and even medical conditions they treat, are quite different from what they see here,” said Heimburger. “With the kind of leadership that Dr. Nzala and his colleagues provide, there’s a bright day ahead for both Vanderbilt and the University of Zambia.”

In addition to UNZA, Copperbelt University and VZNIGHT initiatives, other collaborative prospects in Zambia include the Tropical Disease Research Centre, where Vanderbilt doctoral student in epidemiology Webster Kasongo is based — the first Zambian trainee in AITRP to study at the doctoral level.

The VZNIGHT project is headed by Heimburger, David Wright, Ph.D., associate professor of Chemistry, and Rick Haselton, Ph.D., professor of Biomedical Engineering, and is part of the NIH/Fogarty International Center’s FRAMEWORK initiative to aid in technology transfer and local capacity building for resource-limited nations.