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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been conducting HIV and STD research in Malawi since 1990 when it collaborated with the Malawi Ministry of Health (MOH) to provide technical assistance in the design of several clinical management guidelines for HIV and STDs.

In 1999, this relationship with the MOH was institutionalized when UNC’s Malawi activities were consolidated into a center of excellence for HIV/STD research, care and Capacity building called UNC Project-Malawi. Located in the capital city of Lilongwe, UNC Project-Malawi is on the premises of Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH), a 1,000-bed, public tertiary care hospital operated by the MOH that serves a population of nearly four million people. An estimated 70% of adult hospital admissions are the result of HIV-related illness.

Starting with just two UNC faculty members working in Malawi, UNC Project now employs more than 300 people, including medical specialist, medical and clinical officers, nurses, laboratory and pharmacy technicians, data officers, and administrative and logistical support staff. The project also works with a number of international consultants in clinical, laboratory, and information and communications technology (ICT) development.

UNC has worked with the Malawi Ministry of Health in designing programs to control the spread of HIV and STDs, developing and testing country-specific STD guidelines, and facilitating care in STD clinics. UNC Project has also provided free HIV testing and counseling to outpatients at KCH and Bwaila Hospital. We have also provided staff to the Lighthouse HIV outpatient clinic. UNC Project research projects have included improving the treatment of STDs and reducing adult and mother-to-child transmission of HIV. UNC Project has also been doing research in other infectious diseases like TB, Cryptococcal meningitis, pneumonia and malaria vaccine trials.

Over the years, UNC Project has strived to help strengthen health systems in Malawi. Through a CDC funded laboratory strengthening grant, UNC Project has supported the Kamuzu central Hospital, Cobbe Barracks Hospital, Ntchisi and Dowa District Hospital laboratories. UNC Project also helped establish first Pathology laboratory services at KCH, which are vital in cancer management.

Through the UNC- Malawi Surgical Initiative (MSI); UNC Project has dedicated a Burns Unit and donated the burns unit Theatre equipment which are operational within Kamuzu Central Hospital. This program also donated the first Laparoscopy Unit to Kamuzu Central Hospital.

UNC Project has also supported maternal, neonatal and child health in Malawi through grants from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. UNC Project has implemented HIV Prevention from Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) program that has been supporting MOH in Lilongwe, Dedza, Ntcheu, Mchinji and Dowa, funded by USAID, UNICEF, Proctor & Gamble and CDC.

UNC Project has a strong and growing relationship with the Kamuzu College of Health Sciences (KUHES), formally College of Medicine in Blantyre and Lilongwe. Several UNC faculty members hold joint appointments at COM, and COM classes are taught at UNC Project in epidemiology, pediatrics and HIV care. The two institutions collaborate in training and strategic planning.

Since 1999, UNC Project-Malawi has served as a training site of the NIH Fogarty International Center’s AIDS International Training and Research Program. Through this program, UNC Project offers short-, medium- and long-term training of personnel in Malawi. UNC works in partnership with several important international organizations, including UNICEF and The World Food Programme, to develop care and support programs for people in Malawi. Locally, UNC Project has received funding from MOH and National AIDS Commission (NAC) for national priority research and program implementation.