UNZA-Vanderbilt Partnership for HIV-NCD Research (UVP)

The UNZA-Vanderbilt Training Partnership for HIV-Nutrition-Metabolic Research (UVP-1) and the UNZA-Vanderbilt Partnership for HIV-NCD Research (UVP-2) continue a longstanding training collaboration between the University of Zambia School of Medicine/University Teaching Hospital (UNZA/UTH), Vanderbilt University (VU) and the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH)

As access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV has expanded in sub-Saharan Africa, millions of persons with HIV are surviving for decades on treatment, but they are developing chronic non-communicable disease (NCD) complications that require new science and new directions in prevention, detection, and treatment. Recognizing that investigation and control of NCDs can be most effectively undertaken by highly trained local investigators, UNZA identified the need for doctoral-level research leaders in nutritionally- and metabolically related complications and comorbidities of HIV. UVP-1 supported this effort through training and education initiatives while expanding UNZA/UTH’s research training and investigative capacities.

Key successes of UVP-1 included:

  • Long-term research training for advanced UNZA trainees and junior faculty members, leading to 11 “sandwich” Ph.D. degrees awarded by UNZA and undergirded by Vanderbilt didactic courses, research mentorship, and institutional resources. Between 2015 and 2020, trainees produced 72 manuscripts, 100 presentations at global conferences, and 14 funded grants.
  • Enhancement of the UNZA Ph.D. program through conducting in-country consultations and skill-building short courses, culminating in a redesign of the Ph.D. core curriculum led by UNZA faculty
  • Establishment of the UNZA Mentoring Programme, a week-long faculty development training program to strengthen Ph.D. mentoring standards and assess measurable milestones
  • Annual scientific research conferences held at UNZA, with topics focused on cardiovascular disease, cancer, NCDs, nutrition, and research methods
  • Advanced career opportunities for research-focused UNZA faculty members through 4-month VU-based postdoctoral sabbaticals, expanded research collaborations, and grantsmanship training

UVP-1 was led by Douglas C. Heimburger, MD, MS, professor of medicine in the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, and Selestine H. Nzala, MBChB, MPH, Head of the Department of Medical Education Development at UNZA School of Medicine. UVP-1 has now transitioned to UVP-2 and is led by Wilbroad Mutale, Ph.D., MBChB, associate professor in the University of Zambia School of Public Health and adjunct associate professor in the Vanderbilt Department of Medicine.

UVP-2 will continue the advancement of UNZA’s institutional research capacity and academic leadership. Demonstrating UNZA’s leadership and VIGH’s commitment to strengthening capacities, UNZA is the prime institution for the UVP-2 grant.

This grant will extend the “sandwich” model of Ph.D. training and use a similar model to develop a postdoctoral training fellowship program to create a pipeline of independent scientists at UNZA. Through this grant, new research training mechanisms and support structures will be introduced at UNZA to ensure local sustainability

Collaborations with other regional universities will be leveraged to provide research training opportunities and increased networks. Bioinformatics training opportunities for selected trainees will be provided through a collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Additional collaborations will be built through the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), an Africa-based, Africa-led initiative that has 20-year funding to strengthen the capacity of African universities to produce well-trained and skilled researchers and scholars in Africa.

Key components and innovations of UVP-2 include:

  • Train 5 UNZA Ph.D. students and 4 UNZA postdoctoral scientists in advanced basic, clinical/translational, epidemiologic, and implementation sciences to address the complications and comorbidities most relevant to lifelong HIV management in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Support UNZA’s new postdoctoral fellowship mechanism by replicating key Vanderbilt career development resources at UNZA, principally those associated with successful grant applications, and three-month sabbaticals for 4 UNZA Visiting Faculty Scholars at Vanderbilt, focused on developing collaborations and submitting grant applications
  • Develop an UNZA Biostatistics Support Core with a goal of providing structured biostatistics advising and collaboration by UNZA biostatisticians to UNZA investigators, students, and postdoctoral fellows
  • Strengthen UNZA’s capacity to train researchers, attract research funding, and generate high-impact research outputs across a broad range of HIV-NCD investigations

Both cycles of UVP have been supported by grant D43TW009744 from the Fogarty International Center of the US National Institutes of Health.