UNC's First Doris Duke International Fellows Return from China and Malawi

June 10, 2009 -- Three medical students, including one from UNC-Chapel Hill, have recently returned from a year of clinical research in China and Malawi. The three are the first to be awarded UNC’s Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship (ICRF). UNC is one of five U.S. medical schools that participate in the international fellowship program, the others being Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Penn and UCSF.

Two of the fellowship recipients, Adesola Akinkuotu from UNC and Maureen Braun from Penn State University, spent their fellowship year in Malawi. The UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases (IGHID) has been conducting extensive STD and HIV/AIDS research in Malawi for over two decades. UNC Project-Malawi in Lilongwe is a research, care and training facility which IGHID operates in collaboration with the Malawi Ministry of Health and Kamuzu Central Hospital.

Akinkuotu spent the year working on several projects, including tracking admissions at Kamuzu Central Hospital since the Malawi government implemented a scale-up of HIV testing and treatment programs. “We want to know what symptoms people are coming into the hospital with,” Akinkuotu said.

An aspiring surgeon, she spent the rest of her time working on patient outcomes in trauma surgery. Trauma is one of the leading causes of death in Africa. Adesola returned from her fellowship enthusiastic and energized. “I feel that my goal of becoming an academic surgeon working in a developing country can and will be achieved,” she said.

Braun, who wants to become a pediatrician and work in preventive medicine and child advocacy, conducted research on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). She assisted programs that are working to maximize access to care and improve patient follow-up: if mothers delay or fail to show up for follow-up visits, then prevention programs cannot be adequately tested or implemented. The Doris Duke fellowship gave Braun the opportunity to face real-world challenges head-on.

“As much as we study diseases and learn about global health care issues,” she said, “there is no way I could learn in a book the things I experienced by living and working in Malawi

UNC faculty have worked in China for the past 30 years and has built strong and stable relationships with a number of academic and government institutions. Robinson spent the majority of his time working with IGHID’s partners at the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention in Beijing, China.

His research focused on tuberculosis and HIV co-infection, a major concern globally and in high-TB burden China. Robinson assisted a study of tuberculosis diagnosis in HIV patients. “I faced difficulties that I would not find at home,” Robinson said. “But the challenges and rewards are ones that I hope to encounter in a future career in global infectious disease.”

The three 2009-2010 fellowship recipients will arrive in Chapel Hill this summer for orientation before heading to China and Malawi.

More information:
Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship
UNC Project-Malawi

Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases contact: Lisa Chensvold, (919) 843-5719, lisa_chensvold@med.unc.edu

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