Feature Stories

Hope for women in Malawi

face-of-fistula-steinJeff Wilkinson, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC, likens victims of obstetric fistula to modern-day versions of Job: they have lost their homes, their families, and their health. Funded by the Freedom From Fistula Foundation, with additional support from UNC Project-Malawi and the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases, Wilkinson is surgically repairing fistulas and saving Malawian women from the devastating condition.

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At UNC, a meeting of minds around global health

meeting-minds-summitIn the 1930s, physician and UNC alumnus George Hatem emigrated to China to establish a practice to treat what was then called “venereal disease” and provide medical care to the poor. Hatem went on to lead efforts to eradicate syphilis in China and was recognized with a Lasker Award for his accomplishments. Now, many decades later, syphilis has again reared its ugly head in China, in part due to the country’s rapidly expanding economy and mass internal migration. And again, along with our Chinese colleagues, the Tar Heels are leading the way.

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$40 million for new global HIV clinical trials unit

blood-draw-kanyama-ZambiaThe University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a seven-year, more than $40 million award from the National Institutes of Health for a clinical trials unit that will implement the scientific agendas of five NIH networks devoted to HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and cure research. UNC has had a continuously funded AIDS Clinical Trials Unit since 1987. The latest competitive funding renewal consolidates HIV clinical research operations in North Carolina, Malawi, and Zambia into a Global HIV Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit (UNC Global CTU). The UNC Global CTU will receive approximately $5.5 million in the first year to continue and develop studies addressing the prevention, treatment, and cure of HIV infection.

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A new target for dengue virus vaccine

Creating a vaccine that protects people from all four types of dengue virus has frustrated scientists for decades. But researchers at the University of North Carolina have discovered a new target for human antiThe domestic, day-biting mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which prefers to feed on humans, transmits Dengue virus. Photo: James Gathany, via CDC Public Health Image Librarybodies that could hold the key to a vaccine for the world’s most widespread mosquito-borne disease.  Using an experimental technique new to the dengue field, the labs of Ralph Baric, PhD, and Aravinda de Silva, PhD showed that a molecular hinge where two regions of a protein connect is where natural human antibodies attach to dengue 3 to disable it.

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Ripple effect of reducing poverty

Ashu Handa with children in the Western Kenya community where he did field work in 2011. Kenya’s national poverty alleviation program leads teens to delay sexual activity. Because age of sexual debut is a known risk factor for HIV infection, these large-scale programs could have a spillover impact on HIV prevention, according to the results of a study by UNC researchers. The Kenya Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (Kenya CT-OVC) program reaches nearly 150,000 households across the country. Eligibility is based on poverty and having at least one child below age 18. Families are provided a flat monthly allowance of approximately $20, paid directly to the caregiver, with no conditions attached to the transfer except that the money be used for the care and support of children.

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We have merged!

merger-story-imageEffective immediately, the Center for Infectious Diseases and the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases at UNC are merging under the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. The merger results in an organization that is well positioned to have a substantial impact on the health of people around the world.

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Med students, residents go global

Since 2009, the Office of International Activities has provided critical support to medical students in pursuit of international electives in global health. In the past decade, interest in global health has grown exponentially among medical students in the U.S. and Canada. Today, approximately one-third of students participate in an international health elective during medical school. Four years ago, in response to the increase, the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases and the UNC School of Medicine Office of Medical Education collaborated to create the Office of International Activities (OIA), which provides comprehensive pre- and post-rotation support and education to medical students and resident physicians.

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Meet “Global Heel” Chifundo Zimba

Zimba_Chifundo-ColletaA new series from UNC Global, “Global Heels” profiles international undergraduate and graduate/professional students.
Area of study: Doctorate in nursing, focusing on health care systems.  Where are you from?  “I am from Malawi, a small landlocked country in the sub-Saharan region of southeast Africa, bordering Mozambique to the east and south, Tanzania to the north and Zambia to the west. Known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” because of the peaceful nature of Malawians, the country has not had a war since gaining independence in 1964.”

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Garcia wins E. E. Just Award for scientific achievement

victor-garcia-lab-2013-webJ. Victor Garcia has been awarded the E.E. Just Award from the American Society for Cell Biology. The award recognizes outstanding scientific achievement by a minority scientist and is presented by the Minority Affairs Committee of the ASCB.  Garcia is a professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology in the medical school and a member of the UNC Center for AIDS Research and the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. Garcia came to UNC in 2009, bringing with him a multidisciplinary team of researchers from all over the world.

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 Myron Cohen receives North Carolina’s highest civilian honor

Cohen at an official press conference discussing the results of HPTN 052. IAS meeting, Rome, July 2011.  Photo©IAS/Steve Forrest/Workers' PhotosMyron S. Cohen, MD, a UNC physician and scientist who is internationally recognized for his work studying the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS, has received the 2013 North Carolina Award for Science.  The North Carolina Award is the state’s highest civilian honor. Since 1964, awards have been given annually in four categories: fine arts, literature, public service and science. Previous recipients include Maya Angelou, Charles Kuralt, Charlie Rose and Oliver Smithies.

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UNC honored at Clinton Global Initiative

From left: Greg Allgood, Myron Cohen, Bill Clinton, and Dimitri Panayotopoulos at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative.The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was recognized with a Procter & Gamble Sustainability Partner Award for its work bringing clean drinking water to people living with HIV/AIDS.  The award was presented in New York City at the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual gathering of global leaders who come together to solve the world’s toughest problems. P&G vice-chair, Dimitri Panayotopoulos, presented the award to Myron Cohen, director of the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases (IGHID), who accepted it on behalf of the University. Former President Bill Clinton was there to congratulate Dr. Cohen for his lifetime of work on HIV/AIDS

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Water, sanitation and inequality

Caterina de Albuquerque speaking at the United NationsLeading human rights expert and the first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, will speak at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Friday, October 25. This is the second in the UNC Health and Human Rights Lecture Series, which was launched in 2011 to address critical ethical, legal and policy issues in health. The free public lecture will take place at 5:30 p.m. in Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the FedEx Global Education Center.

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Improving safe motherhood in Malawi

wilkinson-patients-thumbWith an $8-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNC Project-Malawi will reduce maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality in Malawi by strengthening President Joyce Banda’s Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood Initiative. The effort builds on UNC’s more than two-decade commitment to research, training, and care in the nation. As part of the Gates Foundation grant, UNC, in collaboration with Malawian health care workers, will seek to improve safe motherhood in several ways.

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HIV Care in 2013

HIV care providers from across the state gather at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill

Getting her HIV-positive clients to take their drugs consistently and keep regular clinic appointments is the greatest challenge faced by Fran Deshazo-Mock, a social worker in the Cape Fear Valley Health System.  Recent advances in treatment have turned HIV from a life-threatening illness to a chronic, manageable health condition. Today it is estimated that, with as little as one pill a day, people living with HIV have the same life expectancy as anyone else. But people must take their medication daily and see their doctor regularly.

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Five billion liters

Recently in Malawi, UNC and Procter & Gamble shared the 5 billionth liter of drinking water cleaned by P&G’s Purifier of Water technology. The moment was captured by a team of UNC students with Students of the World, an organization driven by the belief that progress is being made every day across the globe in even the most dire of situations and that these stories need to be told. With funding from the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases, the students traveled to Malawi to document P&G’s efforts with UNC and other partners in the region.

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Research ethics in Africa

mother and many children rural malawi

Biomedical research is increasingly being outsourced to developing countries, raising concerns about the potential for exploitation of vulnerable populations. In response, UNC researchers are spearheading projects to cultivate a culture of bioethics in several African countries.

Many of the drugs entering the market today have been tested and refined through trials in developing countries. Although conducting science abroad can have both scientific and societal benefits, this growing trend also poses challenges for ensuring research is conducted ethically and responsibly.

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‘Breakthrough of the Year’

The HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 study, led by IGHID director Myron Cohen, MD, has been named the 2011 Breakthrough of the Year by the journal Science. HPTN 052 evaluated whether antiretroviral drugs can prevent sexual transmission of HIV among couples in which one partner has HIV and the other does not. The research found that early treatment with antiretroviral therapy reduced HIV transmission in couples by at least 96 percent.
(Photo: Science, Dec. 23, 2011. Reprinted with permission from AAAS)

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UNC’s New Emergency Medicine Fellowship Program

Medical students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will have the opportunity to put their emergency training into practice while also helping developing nations improve their own emergency services programs. The new Emergency Medicine Global Health and Leadership Program at the UNC School of Medicine is offering fellowships for emergency medicine physicians to work, conduct research and build emergency services capacity in developing countries.

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The Malawi Surgical Initiative

Carol Shores, MD, PhD, is associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery. She works with the UNC Head and Neck Cancer Program and is pursuing her virology research interests, maintaining an active clinical practice at UNC and training surgical residents in Malawi with the Malawi Surgical Initiative (MSI). She works in Malawi with UNC Project.

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Crisis in the Horn of Africa: Carolina responds

The Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. As a result, crops are failing, livestock are dying and food prices are skyrocketing. As many as 12 million people across four countries—Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti—are threatened with starvation. In collaboration with the Gillings School of Global Public Health, we recently sat down with several UNC experts – all in different fields – to talk about the current crisis, its history, context, and what people can do to help.

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NEW! Global Travel Registry

home page of global travel registry, featuring a map of the glob with small images of Old Well to indicate where members of the UNC community areUNC faculty and students study, research and work around the world, sometimes in challenging locations or during unexpected crises. Now, thanks to the work of a task force formed by the Office of the Provost, the university is launching the UNC Global Travel Registry, which allows members of the UNC community to provide information about trips abroad so that UNC can contact them and better assist them as needed. All students traveling abroad will be required to register their university-related trips in the online registry.

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Photo essay: UNC at IAS

large banner at entrance to parco della musica in rome, where the 2011 IAS conference was heldEarlier this summer, a large UNC delegation traveled to Rome, Italy for the 6th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, the world’s largest open scientific conference on HIV/AIDS.  UNC faculty and students presented more than 50 abstracts.  Many conference attendees were especially anticipating the late-breaker session presenting the results from HPTN 052. The complete list of UNC abstracts is below (UNC authors are underlined).

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Progress in AIDS Battle

microscopic image of HIVA UNC-led research study has made a major discovery in efforts to halt the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  The large international clinical trial, led by Myron S. Cohen, M.D., has found that treating HIV-infected individuals with antiretroviral therapy while their immune systems are still strong significantly reduces the risk of their sexual partners contracting the virus.

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Poverty, Politics, Potable Water

As a student trained in journalism, oral history and ethnography, I usually feel capable of conducting interviews and entering into conversations with people whom I don’t know. As a daughter of two foreign-born parents, I have been fortunate to travel around the world and live in a diverse range of communities. But as I stood with my fellow UNC student documentarians outside of a Maasai hut in rural Tanzania, I knew that even with my training and background, this project would be a complicated and challenging adventure.

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UNC Chancellor visits Malawi

Eight thousand miles separate Chapel Hill and Malawi, a small, landlocked African country. The distance is great, the differences striking – but the ties that bind the two places together are strong.

UNC researchers began working in Malawi more than 20 years ago. Since then, the relationship has deepened as faculty and students help tackle challenges such as HIV, malaria and a lack of basic health infrastructure.

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Little Hearts, Big Dreams

ugandan boy patient from chest up sitting in bed with IVsIn a world of 6 billion people and myriad cultures, few things can truly be said to be universal. The everyday sounds of children, however, are among them.
Around the world, the melodic tones of children playing, the uneven rhythm of a toddler’s steps, and the insistent call of an infant crying cross all barriers imposed by nations, language or culture. These sounds also seem to embody the wish that all parents have for their children: to be healthy and grow up to live long and happy lives.

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A Partnership for Health

A close up of the face and torso of an old Malawian woman, wearing traditional dress, as she bends down to pick up a bucket of water (not pictured)In the spring, the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases collaborated with Global Health TV to make a short film about UNC’s partnership with Malawi. Highlighting the work of UNC Project-Malawi, a research, training and care program in Lilongwe, Malawi, the film “premiered” at the annual meeting of the Global Health Council in June in Washington, DC. In the video, you will see how UNC is building local health workforce capacity to educate and deliver critical services to pregnant women. . .

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Global Health is Public Health

head shot of margaret bentleyLast year, in The Lancet, Jeffrey Koplan and colleagues1 provided a new definition for global health and proposed several distinctions between global health,international health, and public health. This attempt to distinguish differences between global health and public health conflicts with the key tenets of a global public health strategy (panel). These tenets offer the foundation of a redesigned global health system that could accomplish the optimum level of health for populations. This approach has profound implications for training, scholarship, and practice necessary to improve human health.

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Maps, Mosquitoes, and Malaria

All Cameron Taylor needed was a place to sit. The nurses of the Area 18 clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi, rummaged through a closet. They brought back a metal frame with an attached bowl and a plastic toilet seat — a potty chair. Taylor perched on the potty with her laptop and got to work sifting through years of medical records. Taylor, a UNC undergrad, went to Lilongwe in the summer of 2008 to help lay the groundwork for a Phase III clinical trial of the most promising malaria vaccine to date.

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Wearing the Cap and Gown

zimba, ndovie and maseko smile and pose in chapel hillWith training from UNC, nurses fill a critical health care need in Malawi.
HIV/AIDS is wreaking havoc on Malawi. In this land-locked, mostly rural country of 10 million people, 15-17% of the adult population is infected with HIV. Not limited to the physical health of those who have the disease, the impact of HIV reverberates throughout all levels of society. Ironically, one of the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic is the health care system.

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African Dreams

myrick and monier with a group of Malawian kids, smiling after a soccer gameA remote, impoverished country in sub-Saharan Africa may not be the first place most undergraduates want to spend their summer vacation, but it was the dream destination for UNC juniors Olivia Myrick and Elizabeth Monier. The two Morehead-Cain scholars were looking for a summer enrichment experience when they heard about UNC Project-Malawi and the work the University is doing on HIV and other infectious diseases in the region. Since both women plan to go to medical school, this seemed like an ideal situation.

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In Search of the Holy Grail

victor garcia-martinez headshot in front of a bookcaseJ. Victor Garcia-Martinez, PhD, is a compact man with a broad, inexorable smile. He is brimming with energy and seems about to jump out of the chair in his new (but still empty) office. He marvels at how the heat and humidity of a North Carolina summer can turn even a short walk across campus into an endurance test, but then he looks out the window and talks about where to go cycling in the area.

He also talks about HIV and AIDS. Specifically, he talks about curing AIDS, which he calls the “holy grail” of infectious disease medicine. Garcia-Martinez has come to Chapel Hill to find it.

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UNC in Nicaragua: a forward-looking program that will “hold us accountable”

The Nicaraguan mother was frantic, her baby gasping for breath. They had been at the clinic the day before, but the antibiotics didn’t seem to be working. The clinic, staffed by UNC second-year medical student Andrew Chen and a UNC pediatric medical resident, was short on medication. A last-ditch option was to give the baby epinephrine through a nebulizer, but the electricity was out, the battery hadn’t been charged and a search for diesel fuel for the generator had been futile.

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Information goes global

susan swogger in foreground, smiling, with a journal in her hand, and library shelves in the backgroundIt is fitting that the library at UNC Project in Malawi is housed in a building that’s name is a Chichewa word meaning “we should find out.”

That building, Tidziwe Centre, was built in 2003 to accommodate UNC Project’s growing research, clinical care, and training program in the capital city of Lilongwe. A collaboration between UNC and Kamuzu Central Hospital, UNC Project was started in 1991 and has become a dynamic partnership of research and exchange in the study, prevention, and treatment of infectious diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS.

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Chinglish Lessons

matt avery, left foreground, smiling, wearing a carolina sweatshirt and leaning on a carI’m in a hotel room in a remote area of western China where the food is unrecognizable and the local dialect exceeds my knowledge of Chinese. There is a strange man perched on the edge of my bed with a cigarette dangling between his lips, eying me darkly. I also happen to be stark naked. I have the sinking feeling I’m about to become the subject of a “cautionary tale.”

Perhaps I should back up.

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