Friday, February 15, 2008

Fighting HIV/AIDS in Tanzania

The challenge in great; the need greater.

Working in a hospital clinic in the town of Moshi, situated right at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro in northeastern Tanzania, researchers from Duke Medical Center are combining science and service to help fight the HIV/AIDS plague that threatens -- and too often cuts short -- the lives of so many people in Africa.

In a Feb. 14 lecture, part of a series of university seminars on global health, John Bartlett (photo) provided a you-are-there look at what his team faced when first arriving in Tanzania -- where roughly half of all hospitals lack even running water -- and how far research efforts have come. Working at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (photo below), the team has built up laboratory capabilities and trained local lab personnel and health care workers to achieve world-class standards.

But of most importance, the researchers are using the power of clinical trials to bring voluntary counseling, testing and advanced treatment to people in Moshi and other areas of the country.

Dr. Bartlett, a Duke professor of medicine and co-director of the AIDS research program in Tanzania, says that in many cases they have been able to provide patients with their first-ever access to the kind of care that people in Western nations take for granted. He also stresses that they work hard to cooperate and coordinate with local health professionals and community members, and that they view their work as a long-term commitment.

"We'd like to go out of business sometime, by training enough local people to meet the area's and the country's needs," Dr. Bartlett said. "But that likely will take awhile, considering where the country started from, and we plan to be here for the long haul."

To this end, he said part of the reason for his lecture was to make an "unabashed pitch" to recruit students and faculty to come to Moshi to study and work. "We offer lots of opportunities to work with good equipment, and with good scientists from a number of nations, to address some vitally important questions," he said.

As an example of their work, Dr. Bartlett described recent promising efforts to develop an accurate, easy-to-use and inexpensive testing method that uses dried blood drops to determine whether a newborn infant is infected with HIV -- an important challenge in locations where many women carry the virus. The idea is for a health worker anywhere to obtain a few drops of dried blood from a newborn and then send the sample, with no need for costly treatment or packaging, to Moshi or some other large medical center to be interpreted.

Dr. Bartlett's lecture will soon be available for viewing on the Duke Global Health Institute's website. He also participated in a shorter discussion of research in Tanzania that can be heard here, and the AIDS center's work in Moshi has been reported in Duke Magazine.


Patricia Bartlett said...

First of all, I must use the disclaimer that I am John's wife.
I wanted to add a comment because I continue to hear around Durham that we must be crazy to spend so much time in Africa. Our feelings are quite the contrary. We feel that we have learned as much as we have given, or perhaps more, and that Tanzania is a very stable and friendly country. I know that many people wish to volunteer for a 2-3 week time period; however, that is not nearly enough time to work and make a contribution. You will be more frustrated than you will be enriched. We highly encourage young people to make a commitment-to work and as well to enjoy the culture of the area. It takes time, but it is well worth it.

Patrick Nhigula said...

Great, I was born in Tanzania, 1968,Moshi at KCMC hospital. I moved to US back in 1993 and currently I live in Columbia, South Carolina. I am pursuing my career in Epidemiology as Phd candidate student. I hope to conducting my research in HIV/AIDS and focused on young adults.