The University of Venda (Univen) and the University of Virginia (UVa) successfully co-hosted from 14 to 16 March 2016 the ‘International Symposium on Global Health- Research in Africa: Inspiration, Innovation & Implementation’. The academic forum was co-chaired by Professor Pascal Bessong of the HIV/AIDS & Global Health Research Programme, School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Univen, and Professor Rebecca Dillingham, Director of the Center for Global Health, UVa.
Prof Peter Mbati engages the co-chairs of the Conference Prof Rebecca Dillingham, UVa; Prof Pascal Bessong,Univen; Dr Flora Katz, Fogarty International Centre; Dr Richard Guerrant, UVA; and Dr Josyf Mychaleckyi,UVa.
More than 90 delegates from various countries, including the United States of America (USA), Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa attended the symposium. Major funding agencies such as the South African Medical Research Council, the National Research Foundation, and the Fogarty International Center
of the National Institutes of Health (USA) were represented. The event was a celebration of Univen’s flagship collaboration with UVa. Prof Peter Mbati, Univen’s Vice Chancellor and Principal alluded in his welcome address that “as some of you may already know the collaboration on research, graduate student training and mentoring of junior lecturers between Univen and the University of Virginia goes back to almost 15 years. During this time, investigators from both institutions have jointly carried out research projects that have produced results of global significance and application. This symposium is another clear demonstration of this on-going collaboration”. He explained that the theme: ‘Inspiration, Innovation, and Implementation’ relates to key aspects relevant to improving health and equity in health for populations.
Mbati commented: ‘Coming together as biomedical and human sciences investigators, healthcare professionals, and funding agencies; this gathering provides an excellent opportunity to ponder on the relevance and applicability of our global health research initiatives. In this context, break-out discussion groups on water and sanitation; enteric infections; malaria; HIV; TB; and qualitative research methods have been designed to suit the interests of delegates. It is a time to exchange ideas on what innovations are required to address global health issues, and I would add, particularly in societies of low socio-economic status.’
Prof Mbati stressed that there is also a need to celebrate the crop of human capital that has been developed and which we should continue to develop for careers in global health research and its applications thereof. ‘These programs provide an enabling environment for the mentoring of pre-doctoral and postdoctoral students from the University of Venda on global health research. Furthermore, through the interactions of faculty and staff of the University of Venda and the University of Virginia, the research infrastructure and processes are strengthened for outputs of higher quality’.
Professor Pascal Bessong in his opening remarks of the symposium emphasised the importance, fruitfulness and richness of collaboration in research and human capital development, and added that commitment and mutual respect are key ingredients to successful collaborations. He encouraged delegates to use the symposium to develop new collaborative initiatives. In his closing remarks he expressed the hope that the meeting has galvanized delegates in their pursuits in global health research in Africa and beyond.
Dr Flora Katz, Director, Division of international training and research at Fogarty International Center in her plenary talk pointed out to delegates that innovative research is not complete without implementation.
The University of Virginia’s Founding Director of the Centre for Global Health, Dr Richard Guerrant, said that the international symposium links top scientists who share interests, tools and purpose and can produce truly synergistic collaborations that grow far greater than the sum of the separate projects alone. “This is the first such ‘Pan-African’ symposium that engages five of the six NIH-Fogarty International Centre Africa training programs sharing their work and exploring ‘win-win’ collaborations, going forward,” added Professor Guerrant. “Seeing these interactions and developing collaborations take place at this meeting is indeed exciting and most instructive”. Professor Guerrant further added that the partnership between these universities is building upon outstanding trainees and collaborators across multiple disciplines; tremendous advances in technology can now be applied to understand and ameliorate major health threats among those in greatest need.
Participants appreciated the capacity-development offered by the symposium. Michigan State University and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Research Fellow and Lecturer in Horticulture, Dr Wezi Mkwaila, said that the benefits of participating in the international symposium is to find common ground for responding to call for proposals. “It is a great opportunity to communicate my research findings. It is also an opportunity for future collaboration”.
Dr Angelina Maphula, lecturer in psychology at the University of Venda, and a former recipient of the D43 fellowship award from Fogarty International Center, said that the collaboration between the two universities is an opportunity for her to network with other researchers. “We have discussions that may lead to new ideas to address global health issues. It is an opportunity to exchange ideas and to bring change through multidisciplinary research.”
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