Australia Awards builds capacity in clinical research to help fight tuberclosis
(By Kristina Gubic)
Francis (centre) working as a consultant epidemiologist in Swaziland for the assessment of paediatric TB, HIV and Malaria services. (right) a fellow consultant and (left) a physician at one of the health facilities visited.
Tuberculosis (TB) remains the world’s second biggest killer after HIV/ AIDS, and although there has been a 45% decline in the global death rate since 1990, Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind in meeting the targets associated with the Millennium Development Goals.
While the continued roll out of treatment is critical to reversing the spread of TB, building the capacity of clinical researchers that will advance knowledge of new treatment is paramount to winning the fight. Nobody understands this better than Dr Francis Mhimbira who completed a Master of Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne in 2010 with the help of a full scholarship from the Australian government.
Epidemiology is seen as the basic science behind public health, providing the tools to find the cause of diseases and track treatment responses in population health.
Before completing his Master degree, Francis had already worked in primary health care for six years, serving at the frontlines of TB testing and treatment at a national hospital in Tanzania. Frustrated by the lack of an integrated regional response to this highly infectious disease and the rise in co-infected patients and multi-drug resistant strains, he was motivated to advance his career in clinical research.
Upon his return to Tanzania, Francis joined the Ifakara Health Institute where his newly acquired skills have enabled him to make several valuable contributions to TB research. He has worked on the harmonisation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional response to TB policy assessment and developed diagnostic studies that have improved the detection of TB in adults and children, while conducting clinical trials in TB vaccines and drugs.
“The skills I earned in my Australian studies on designing research projects, analysing data and proposal writing have all provided a solid foundation for me to advance my career in TB research,” explains Francis.
These contributions have not gone unnoticed and Francis is now a PhD candidate with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute. The framework of his doctoral thesis will help develop new vaccines as well as new diagnostic markers for TB. “I would not have been able to advance my career to this level without the training from the University of Melbourne, which built my academic and proposal writing skills,” says Francis.
“My studies in Australia have opened doors to endless opportunities for me to contribute towards TB research and help make a difference in my home country and worldwide,” he adds.