The importance of training health care workers in the developing world

April 2009

By Myron S. Cohen, MD, Director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases

By training one person, UNC helps thousands in Malawi.

Earlier this month, UNC was ranked #9 in HIV/AIDS programs in U.S. News & World Report’s annual listing of America’s Best Graduate Schools. The specialty rankings (including HIV/AIDS) are based on ratings by our peers (medical school deans and senior faculty from all of the schools surveyed), and our placement among the top 10 is a real honor and achievement.

sam phiri stands in front of the brass sign for Lighthouse HIV Clinic, Lilongwe Malawi

Sam Phiri

UNC’s HIV and other global health programs receive a significant amount of funding from the National Institutes of Health. These grants are all highly competitive. This month the NIH awarded us $2.7 million for the Fogarty International Center’s AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP). UNC has participated in the AITRP program for the past 10 years, and we are very excited to have received this 5-year renewal (read the news release here).

Under the direction of Dr. Ada Adimora, UNC professor of medicine and clinical associate professor of epidemiology, this crucial program provides HIV/AIDS research training to scientists in China, Malawi and Cameroon. After completing the program, AITRP trainees return to their home countries to battle the epidemic as health leaders in universities and government. The success of this program reflects the Institute for Global Health and Infections Diseases’ commitment to developing sustainable global programs that put health and health care delivery in local hands.

The power and potential of the AITRP is best illustrated by the trainees themselves. More than a decade ago, UNC hired a young Malawian clinical officer, Sam Phiri, to work at UNC Project-Malawi. Sam had just graduated from the Malawi College of Medicine, and he proved to be a terrifically talented and highly motivated research clinician. As an AITRP trainee, Sam earned both an MPH and a PhD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one of our partners in the program.

Sam established and now directs The Lighthouse Trust, an integrated clinical treatment facility in Malawi for patients with HIV infection. The Lighthouse clinic, located in Lilongwe, is one of the most important HIV clinics in Malawi, providing antiretroviral therapy and clinical care to nearly 10,000 patients.

“[The AITRP] greatly enhanced my research and leadership skills,” Sam said. “And it exposed me to the international scientific community, and I have learned a lot from them.”

Sam’s growth as a scientist and clinician, combined with his extraordinary leadership, has enabled him to provide much-needed medical care to thousands of his fellow Malawians.

With NIH funding becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, IGHID is incredibly privileged to receive their support for a program that is doing so much to improve global health.

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