Fulbright Awards Focus on Health Challenges in Africa

Apr. 17, 2017

Amina Alio, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Public Health Sciences and Michael Potchen, M.D., a professor in the URMC Department of Imaging Sciences, have received Fulbright Scholar awards for projects to improve the delivery of care in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Africa healthAlio – whose research focus includes racial and ethnic disparities and global health – will examine the social, economic, and public health impact of HIV/AIDS in Niger.  Compared to many of its neighbors, Niger has an overall low rate of HIV infection among its population.  While this has spared the country from the public health crisis that touched many other regions of Africa, it also means that little has been done to raise public awareness and prevent the spread of the disease. These conditions, combined with high and rising rates of HIV infection among youth and female sex workers in Niger, could create the conditions for the disease to gain a foothold in the country.

Alio will conduct research that will help understand the social and economic impact of the disease and enable the country and international organizations to develop methods to raise awareness and implement prevention campaigns, particularly among the nation’s youth and sex workers.  Alio will also teach and help develop courses on reproductive health at the Université Abdou Moumouni in Niamey, Niger. 

Potchen’s Fulbright project will focus on training health care professionals in Zambia to use advanced imaging technologies such as MRIs.  Potchen has worked extensively in sub-Saharan Africa, including helping establish a new MRI facility in Malawi and has partnered with URMC neurologist Gretchen Birbeck, M.D., M.P.H., in efforts to improve care for HIV patients with seizures in Zambia. 

Until recently, the only advanced imaging technologies available in Zambia were CT scanners. Patients requiring an MRI, which can produce clearer images in soft tissue such as the brain, had to travel hundreds of miles to South Africa.  The Zambian government has been investing in new imaging technologies, including purchasing MRI units, and Potchen will work with the Zambian Ministry of Health to establish training programs for radiologists, physicians, and radiology trainees to optimize the use of these technologies, particularly in the field of neuroimaging.  

Founded in 1946, the Fulbright Program awards merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists, and artists to support studies and research conducted abroad.  The program is run by the U.S. State Department.

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