February 6, 2009

Grant bolsters AIDS research training program

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Mulindi Mwanahamuntu, M.D., pointing to monitor, is a collaborator in Vanderbilt's AIDS International Training and Research Program. Here, he trains nurses and students at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. (photo by Vikrant Sahasrabuddhe)

Grant bolsters AIDS research training program

The Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health has received a $2.9 million renewal of a federal grant to train the next generation of AIDS researchers in Africa and Asia.

The Vanderbilt University-Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia AIDS International Training and Research Program (VU-CIDRZ AITRP) is now in its 10th year of funding and has been renewed until May 2014.

Through the AITRP, researchers from Zambia, Pakistan, India, China and Mozambique receive public health degree training at Vanderbilt, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and then return to their home countries to implement health programs and train others.

“This training is important because the purpose of AITRP is to leverage existing human capital, which means helping health professionals obtain a higher level of expertise,” said Holly Cassell, M.P.H., program manager at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health.

“There is a misconception that lesser-developed countries don't have experts. They do have well-trained nurses and doctors but do not have that extra push of training and technology.”

The AITRP has trained 58 people in advanced degrees, such as Master of Public Health and Ph.D. in epidemiology, and they in turn have helped train more than 2,000 health professionals through in-country courses.

“Trainees are mentored on how to publish and use results to obtain funding in-country. Then they can write their own grants and bring in their own dollars,” Cassell said. “Our initial trainees are now heads of NGOs and ministries of health and are primary leaders in the country.”

After completing their education, AITRP trainees are required to return to their home country for at least two years.

“They get the expertise and go back home to implement the skills. The goal is for them to become greater experts and teachers and pass that on to others,” Cassell said.

The five focus countries were chosen based on three criteria: partner institutions and/or former trainees have extramural research programs in place; a substantial HIV/AIDS threat exists; and VU has strong support from national authorities, local leaders and university collaborators.