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By John Thorp, Jr. MD

Wilkinson works to heal the wounds of childbirth. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Wilkinson

On September 6, 2011, building upon years of investment by our infectious disease colleagues and the legacy of Charles Hendricks in encouraging international learning experiences, the pioneer UNC OBGYN faculty member and Ross Alumnus, Jeff Wilkinson arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and the Freedom from Fistula Foundation, Jeff will lay the foundation for what we aspire to create-a comprehensive global training and research program program in women’s health. This program will allow U.S. learners to have international experiences in women’s health while providing post-graduate education for Malawian medical students. Moreover, our clinical presence will allow us to take advantage of international funding opportunities in women’s health research. Malawi is the third poorest country in the world with over 14 million inhabitants and no obstetrics and gynecology residency. Certified obstetricians and gynecologists hover at a total no more than 5 so the clinical challenges are huge, as are our educational and research objectives.

Fortunately, we were able to recruit Jeff back to Chapel Hill from Duke and he is willing to live in Lilongwe and raise his family there. Prior to coming home, Jeff had helped Duke start a clinical program in Tanzania. His urogynecolgic training in the UNC fellowship headed by Drs. Ellen Wells and Bill Droegemueller make him one of the few fellowship trained urogynecologists on the African continent. This talent and training dovetails with the mission of the Fistula Foundation which is a Scottish charity dedicated to fistula prevention and treatment in Africa. Prior to Jeff’s hiring we have had multiple faculty doing short stints focused on research in Malawi including Drs. Gretchen Stuart, Tom Ivester, and Amy Bryant. Having a leader on the ground there full-time should catalyze our rise to the next level and move us closer to the lofty goals we have articulated.

Also see UNC project – Malawi | Institute for Global Health & Infection Disease