Partnerships are essential to Fogarty's success: Opinion by Dr Roger Glass

July / August 2016 | Volume 15, Number 4

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

This African proverb neatly sums up Fogarty's philosophy. Our programs are founded on the notion that partnerships are essential and that, together, we can accomplish much more than we can alone.

A recent study, "Global Health Programs and Partnerships: Evidence of Mutual Benefit and Equity," underlines the importance of working together. The report, based on a survey of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health member institutions indicated broad agreement that partnerships are beneficial and that most work well. However, some respondents noted issues of inequities in collaborations involving high- and low-income partners in terms of decision making, partly due to the one-sided nature of the funding.

It's important that we take this into consideration, to ensure that the research we are supporting is directed by local priorities and will offer benefits to the community in which it is conducted. That’s one reason when we were planning our Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), we deliberately structured the program so the awards went directly to the African institutions, with high-income country partners playing a key, but supporting role. We wanted to make sure the African investigators had the flexibility to direct resources to address local needs - whether it was to increase Internet bandwidth, transition from paper textbooks to electronic ones, expand curricula to include chronic diseases, establish rural training sites, or other priorities. We also made it a requirement that they collaborate with ministries of health, education and finance - to ensure they had local buy-in and that their efforts were in alignment with national priorities.

At Fogarty, we view partnerships as a long-term endeavor built upon trust and common goals. We understand that creating the human capacity required to design, conduct and analyze robust high-impact research takes time and sustained support. In 1988, we began awarding grants to help cultivate scientific expertise in developing countries that were being ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Nearly three decades later, we can see the results - a generation of well-trained scientists who are producing solutions to help bring an end to AIDS. From proving people living with HIV in low-resource settings can follow complex antiretroviral protocols, to determining the benefits of circumcision, to investigating microbicides - our grantees and trainees are at the cutting edge of science and are providing the evidence base for well-informed decisions. A good trainee can yield benefits across an entire career - what a tremendous return from a modest, but life-changing, investment.

Three male medical workers in white coats wearing gloves, one explains to the other two
Photo by Richard Lord for Fogarty/NIH

Partnerships over time with institutions such as
Makerere University have resulted in a cadre of
well-trained scientists who are able to successfully
compete for funding through the NIH peer review

It’s gratifying to see the impact over time, when institutions such as Cayetano Heredia University in Peru, or Makerere University in Uganda, begin with one Fogarty grant that multiplies over the decades into portfolios that now include 40 or more NIH grants, and have resulted in a cadre of well-trained scientists who are able to successfully compete for funding through the NIH peer review process.

It was interesting to note that the partnership survey showed 40 percent of respondents cite developing South-South collaborations as their highest priority. That’s certainly something we have been pursuing. As our initial grantee institutions mature, they are increasingly able to reach out to other regions or countries to leverage training resources and expand capacity in underserved areas. For instance, grantees in Brazil are collaborating with scientists in Mozambique, to share lessons learned and curricula developed in their common language, Portuguese. In similar fashion, we see faculty exchange happening among the members of the MEPI network, so that all can benefit from the programmatic strengths of each institution. And with the NIH Human Health and Heredity in Africa (H3Africa) initiative, we are developing research skills and establishing biorepositories so that African scientists can help determine the genetic basis for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other ailments - discoveries that will improve the health of people everywhere. This not only begins to address issues of health equity but also may yield clues that will advance our efforts to develop truly “personalized” medicine, so that we can customize approaches to prevent and treat disease.

Partnerships have been essential to the success of all of these projects, and hundreds more besides. And for that, we are grateful to all of you who have accompanied us on this journey and we count on your support as we negotiate the road ahead.

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