March 10, 2011
The United States is spending up to $130 million over five years to develop, expand, and enhance medical education in African countries that receive support from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In the process, the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) aims to train 140,000 new African health care workers and, in order to encourage their retention on the continent, to build clinical and research capacity in Africa.
It is a specific goal of MEPI to "improve and help create environments that will make professionals want to remain in a country," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes for Health, which is funding the initiative with PEPFAR.
"People want to come home more often than not because they know the devastation that these diseases have wrought and want to help," said Dr. Eric Goosby, US global AIDS coordinator. Due to competitive demand amid a global shortage of health professionals, however, some African countries find that trained medical professionals who go abroad outnumber those who remain to work in country.
MEPI will provide grants to African institutions in a dozen countries, with 30 regional partners, national health and education ministries, and more than 20 US institutions, including CDC. Twelve countries and 13 schools already have had grants approved. A measure of MEPI's success will be in its attraction of peer-reviewed research projects, Collins said.
In South Africa, the University of KwaZulu-Natal received a grant to work with Columbia University to "enhance training, research capacity, and expertise in HIV care." A grant to Stellenbosch University could be used to help strengthen a recruitment program targeting rural students, said Dr. Jean Nachega, a university researcher and dean.