Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH, thinks outside the box when it comes to ensuring the medical professionals that train at UNC Project-Malawi receive the education needed to be successful clinicians and researchers. She received her medical and public health degrees in the United States, but has served the citizens of Malawi for 14 years as a clinician, researcher and educator through a collaboration between UNC, the Malawi Ministry of Health and the Malawi College of Medicine. She recently received notice of an award for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) D43 Fogarty International Research Training grant that will fund training and research activities to ensure that Malawian investigators are capable of conducting the research that can assist them to tackle the most relevant HIV questions in their clinical setting.
“When I ask junior faculty about their long term goals, they will often state that they want to be an independent investigator,” says Hosseinipour, who serves as UNC Project-Malawi’s Scientific Director and a Research Professor of Medicine at UNC. “But often, they don’t really have an understanding of the requirements to reach independence because they haven’t had mentors along the way.”
Malawi, a country in Sub-Saharan Africa, has a population of 16 million and 11 percent of adults are living with HIV. The training grant Hosseinipour secured will provide $1.5 million of direct funding for five years and will build off of UNC Project-Malawi’s 15-year partnership with Fogarty-sponsored trainings that have developed an ever-growing pool of Malawian researchers. The program will be called the Malawi HIV Implementation Research Training Program (M-HIRST). Hosseinipour says the goal of this award is to train a total of 170 people – 12 junior faculty to participate in the Research Faculty Mentorship Program, two doctoral students, six master’s degree candidates and more than 150 participants in short course programs about implementation science, clinical trial design, statistics and scientific writing.
“In a resource-limited setting, the best strategies to implement programs are of critical importance so that available resources can be utilized more effectively,” Hosseinipour says. “This grant will allow Malawians to benefit from best practices in HIV care and treatment. And if our faculty development program is successful, other countries and other medical schools may use our program as a model for investing in the development of research scientists.”
Innocent Mofolo, MSc, is the Associate Country Director and Administrative Manager of UNC Project-Malawi. He says Hosseinipour’s contribution to the health care system in Malawi is immeasurable.
“Over the years, she has contributed to the development of young scientist and clinicians. Some of them have now risen and have taken leadership positions in government influencing policy,” Mofolo says. “Mina has indeed contributed to eradicate health disparities and her commitment to training the next generation of Malawian clinicians and researchers has been a great contribution to the country. She has mentored many Malawian scientist and clinicians who are now leaders and are also training others. She is committed to Malawi and continues to train and mentor young scientist and doctors. I cannot say enough how her service to Malawi is invaluable.”
Medical Residency Inspires Global View of Health
Improving the health of people living with HIV first touched Hosseinipour in the late 1990s when she was completing her residency in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“This was just as combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV was introduced and the transformation in HIV care was dramatic,” Hosseinipour says. “Also, since I was training in Houston, there were large numbers of immigrants with tropical infectious diseases that I found interesting. Broadly, both of theses conditions highlighted health disparities between resource-rich and poor settings that I thought I could address through further training in public health and infectious diseases.”
With her sights set on improving public health at a global level, Hosseinipour found her ideal training program through UNC’s Infectious Diseases Fellowship and the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s MPH degree. During her fellowship, she had the opportunity to train at UNC Project-Malawi. Watching Malawians living with HIV struggle to afford their antiretroviral therapy inspired Hosseinipour to act.
“When I arrived in Malawi, there was only a single combination tablet that was available and the cost was $35 a month. While this sounds like a small amount, in one of the poorest countries in the world, this was inaccessible to most,” she says. “Those who tried to start treatment at this price often dropped out of care. I became part of the task force to develop treatment guidelines for Malawi and it was clear that there needed to be a free program. With funding from the Global Fund, the Malawi ART Program launched a free medications program in 2004. My participation in the roll-out of ART in Malawi has been one of my most rewarding experiences.”
Irving Hoffman, PA, MPH, is the International Director of UNC-Project Malawi. He says Hosseinipour’s passion to eradicate health disparities and her commitment to training the next generation of Malawian clinicians and researchers is commendable.
“What Mina has accomplished during her life in Malawi has been nothing short of heroic,” says Hoffman. “Her commitment to preventing and treating HIV has singlehandedly saved thousands of lives. Just as importantly, her fierce commitment to the training of Malawian clinicians and scientists will have an enduring effect on improving the health of all Malawians for years to come. Mina is a brilliant scientist and clinician, and she has sacrificed a lot to stay in Malawi all these years and continue her good work. The UNC family is indebted to her for her significant service.”
During her 14 years at UNC Project-Malawi, Hosseinipour has seen her role evolve from an infectious diseases trainee to the Scientific Director of the site. She says her varying duties at the site – administrator, clinician, researcher and educator – keep the work challenging and rewarding.
“I am involved in clinical care, the education of undergraduates to junior faculty, a broad range of research projects in HIV treatment and prevention, and I participate in national policy discussions,” Hosseinipour says. “The variety of activities in which I get to participate means there is never a dull moment. Even if one component is not going well, I can be sure that something is succeeding.”
And she also knows how to have fun. Hosseinipour leads UNC Project-Malawi’s after-work fitness volleyball and football teams as well as manages the Lilongwe ultimate Frisbee club.