Photo courtesy of George Washington University
NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins addressed
participants of the Medical Education Partnership
Initiative (MEPI), telling them he expects lessons
learned through the program will inform health care
everywhere, including the U.S.
Optimism was in the air at the inaugural meeting of the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), held recently in South Africa. "This is a hopeful time," observed Dr. Francis Omaswa, one of the leaders of the Initiative's coordinating center. Omaswa opened the session, calling it "the largest-ever meeting of African medical educators," and said "we are making history...this is really a milestone in Africa's development."
The more than 230 participants included several African ministers of health, deans and faculty of the region's leading medical schools, two U.S. ambassadors, the NIH director and numerous African and American collaborators.
Omaswa said the initiative, in which the U.S. will invest up to $130 million over five years in African institutions to transform medical education, is an "exceptional" opportunity.
With funding from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, and the NIH, the program supports awards in a dozen African countries, which are being jointly administered by Fogarty and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Seventeen NIH Institutes and Centers and the Common Fund are participating in the initiative. (View a full list of MEPI partners.)
MEPI is unique in that it empowers African leaders to define local needs and develop the most appropriate solutions, said Amb. Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. He called for "sustained intellectual honesty" and an acknowledgement of "the important role that research plays in anchoring an inquiring mind" in clinical as well as scientific work, both "essential to improving the quality of care."
The program is not a sign the U.S. is pulling back. Instead, Goosby said, "this is the commitment to make the PEPFAR gains sustainable, rather than just one chapter in the book."
Despite its enormous population and burden of disease, sub-Saharan Africa has only a fraction of the health care workers it needs, according to NIH Director Francis S. Collins. "If we don't have the talented individuals who are going to roll up their sleeves and carry out this work, we aren't going to accomplish very much."
Photo by Ann Puderbaugh
In South Africa, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and
Fogarty Director Dr. Roger Glass toured a research
site in Soweto with grantee Dr. Glenda Gray of
University of Witwatersrand.
But the quality of training must also be considered, suggested Dr. Miriam Were, chair of Kenya's AIDS council. "Let there be operational research to establish the maximum number that can be included in bedside teaching to ensure we are producing quality medical doctors."
MEPI will also encourage researchers by addressing the lack of infrastructure and support to make research a viable career, protected time to conduct investigations and the data management necessary for population studies, Collins said.
In addition, the program will facilitate information sharing among African institutions. "We hope MEPI will build interactions in a much more interconnected, networked way, as opposed to the twinning model," in which western researchers are paired with African counterparts.
Health care workers are best recruited and trained in the settings where they're needed, said Dr. Laura Cheever, of HRSA's HIV/AIDS Bureau. In the U.S., physicians who train in community settings are three times more likely to work in that environment.
For MEPI to achieve its full potential, participants were encouraged to leverage existing resources. (View a full list of Partnership and Collaboration Resources for Global Health Researchers.) Synergies could also be built with NIH's Human Heredity and Health in Africa project, Collins suggested.
MEPI's African leaders should think creatively and experiment with new ways of teaching, said Fogarty Director Dr. Roger I. Glass. "We have great hopes for what you can achieve."
If MEPI is successful, it will generate innovative models that are useful everywhere, Collins said. "We expect to learn about things through MEPI that will inform health care elsewhere in the world, including the U.S."
Louis Pasteur once said that science belongs to no one country, Collins reminded the participants and added, "Science belongs to Africa, too."