Amy Tsui: Building capacity in African universities

Following is a report on Amy Tsui’s presentation at the 2010 APLIC conference.

Tsui, a professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, began her talk by saying that APLIC president Claire Twose has been “invaluable” to her research.

Tsui continued talking about research infrastructure, saying it is not often you get money to develop research capacity for the long term – but she got just that from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Tsui is director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, which works with African universities to develop research and training programs.

The institute focuses on multi-country, large-scale research projects and working with universities on curricula to train the next generation. They also helps partners organize their own conferences. Tsui said that in order to keep training programs alive, they have to focus on building research capacity.

Tsui described a typical faculty visit to Johns Hopkins. Visiting faculty audit courses, take training on electronic databases, work on a systematic literature review or data analysis exercise, and give a seminar presentation. Tsui noted that these faculty do not have access to the same level of resources in their home universities – for example, the bibliographic databases and journal subscriptions that Hopkins pays millions of dollars for, reliable internet and electricity, and training in statistical software. “If they had the kind of access that we have here, the speed of  change would be that much faster,” Tsui said.

Tsui went into detail about a research project in Africa, delivering home based family planning counseling and HIV voluntary counseling and testing to couples in rural Malawi. The project faced a number of hurdles, including a year-long wait for IRB approval (due to fears of domestic violence following testing and counseling – but no incidences were reported), the need for confidential referrals, polygamous households (excluded from the study), and community misconceptions.

So far, the project has resulted in a manuscript under review and a submitted NIH proposal, in collaboration with the University of Malawi.

1 Comment »

  1. Jean Sack wrote:

    January 19, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    In 1999 Dr. Taha took a group from Johns Hopkins to the Malawi School of Medicine in Balantyre. We put together a computer learning lab with the help of a brilliant UNDP staffer and taught Internet Public Health Research possibilities to the faculty, representatives of the Health Ministries, and a few chosen students/staff. Despite occasional power outages (we had a generator and CD ROMS), the group was electrified. I’m very glad to hear of continuing efforts in Africa through this initiative of Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health!

    Hopefully the program can be expanded to Rwanda and Burundi where we have contacts.

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