UNC Project-Malawi has grown from a one-room operation into a thriving center for clinical care, research and training on the campus of Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe. Since its inception in 1990, faculty from UNC-Chapel Hill have collaborated with the Malawi Ministry of Health and Kamuzu Central Hospital. Today, UNC Project-Malawi boasts a 360-person staff, manages 40 research studies and contributes to improved health outcomes throughout the country.
Recently, a delegation from UNC-Chapel Hill visited the site to celebrate the dedication of three new spaces. The UNC Project Annex building will allow the site to provide 70 percent of the country’s population with cancer and pathology services. Malawi is home to 17 million people. In addition to a ceremony marking the opening of the building, the pathology laboratory on the ground floor was named in honor of Francis Martinson, country director of UNC Project-Malawi and associate professor of medicine in UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
“It is always an honor when your peers and subordinates recognize the effort you have put in to make things happen,” said Martinson, MB ChB, PhD, MPH. “All of these make me reflect on my early years trying to fashion out what we have today – the toils to gain acceptance in a strange land and get local Malawians to believe that they can succeed if we all work hard at what we have set out to do.”
Originally from Ghana, Martinson arrived in Malawi in 1999 after his post-graduate and post-doctoral training at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. His familiarity with research was instrumental with helping train staff to conduct clinical trials. UNC Project-Malawi is now only one of two sites in the world that manages studies for all five U.S. Division of AIDS research networks.
“Our attempt at finding scientific solutions has changed the mentality of Malawians and succeeded in incorporating the right attitude of ‘I can’ into their daily lives,” Martinson said.
He is most proud of the strides the Project has made in HIV and malaria treatment and prevention. He is impressed with how staff have risen in the organization, moving from entry level positions to leadership roles. Martinson will retire this year, but is confident the Project’s lifesaving work will continue.
“UNC Project-Malawi remains the premiere facility that every institution in Malawi will want to poach from,” Martinson said. “The people and their hospitality will always be missed, not forgetting the beautiful all-year weather. I have lived most of my adult life in Malawi and this place has really been a home away from home for me.”
Providing Educational Opportunities
Irving Hoffman, PA, MPH, is a professor of medicine in UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases and serves as UNC Project-Malawi’s international director. For the past 25 years he has worked tirelessly to ensure Malawians who seek specialty training in clinical medicine receive the training they need to work in Malawi’s academic or public settings. With funding from the Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program and the Gilead Training Fellowship, Hoffman has helped 13 Malawians earn board certified clinical degrees with an additional four in training. Among the 13 who have completed training, an astonishing 12 are currently practicing in Malawi.
The new library on the Project’s campus honors Hoffman’s passion for making an education available to all. A plaque outside the library recognizes his “untiring effort to provide medical education to the people of Malawi.”
“It’s a library not only for the faculty and staff at UNC Project-Malawi, but also for the whole, neighboring medical community,” Hoffman said.
UNC Malawi has been providing library services to the Kamuzu Central Hospital campus since 2000. This library is an extension of the UNC Health Sciences Library in Chapel Hill, which supplies technical assistance, access to journals, scientific search engines, and logistical support. Its ever evolving and updated reference books, numbering over 1000, cover the areas of HIV, malaria, TB, other infectious diseases, oncology, pathology, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and women’s reproductive health, internal medicine, community health, implementation research, water and sanitation and nutrition, among others.
To learn more about UNC Project-Malawi, visit www.med.unc.edu/infdis/malawi.