Building the UB–Zimbabwe connection

By Mary Cochrane

A University at Buffalo and University of Zimbabwe (UZ) collaborative program designed to improve and provide treatments for HIV patients in developing nations has grown considerably in terms of staff size and support in its five-year existence.

The UB-UZ program works to equip pharmacists at the University of Zimbabwe—home to the nation’s only medical school—with training and resources so that they can begin to conduct more clinical pharmacology trials of AIDS drugs.

UB also uses its online HIV Pharmacotherapy Network (http://hiv.buffalo.edu) to encourage the global dissemination of ideas on HIV pharmacotherapy, particularly as they pertain to developing nations.

The collaboration grew out of the relationship between the Department of Pharmacy Practice in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and its chair at the time, Gene Morse, with Chiedza Maponga, a 1988 graduate of the school and a native of Zimbabwe. Maponga now holds faculty appointments at both universities, and was the first clinical pharmacist in his home country. “The program that started with just myself as a visiting research fellow is now promising to involve many others,” Maponga says.

At UB, Morse, associate dean for clinical and translational research and director of the Pharmacotherapy Research Center (PRC), serves as team leader, working alongside scientists Qing Ma, research assistant professor; Linda Catanzaro, clinical associate professor; Robert DiCenzo, clinical assistant professor; and Alan Forrest, professor. They in turn all work with the laboratory staff of the PRC: manager Robin Difrancesco, supervisor Jill Hochreiter and Kelly Tooley, a senior research support specialist. In addition, there is a computer programmer for the Web site, Francesco Lliguicota, who provides expertise that facilitates technology transfer from UB to UZ.

Maponga collaborates with James Hakim, lead medical investigator for HIV research programs at UZ. He also works with support staff that includes nurses and community workers from Harare.

The program’s missions to further research of HIV and its requests for support have been successful, Maponga points out. “We’ve had an encouraging initial response in our grant requests and we have published several scientific abstracts, presented findings at international conferences and are about to publish a manuscript that describes our initiatives in Topics in HIV Medicine, a scientific, peer-reviewed journal of the International AIDS Society-USA.”

Most recently, Waters Associates donated an HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) Alliance instrument valued at $60,000 for use in training in the collaborative program.

Maponga said current plans include bringing a graduate student from Zimbabwe to Buffalo for three months’ training in the PRC core analytical laboratory at UB. This will be made possible through a supplement received from the NIH Fogarty International Center in collaboration with the UC Berkeley AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP).

“The student is due to arrive at UB in mid-June, and I will accompany him to assist in getting him started,” Maponga says. “At that time we will officially receive the donated equipment from Waters and start using it for training purposes.”

Morse notes that “with new training and expertise, the University of Zimbabwe will be better positioned to obtain funding from the World Health Organization to implement pharmacology-related protocols and enroll patients in its own clinical trials. This will, in turn, allow for important clinical research to be conducted that examines the use of HIV medicine with traditional medicines that are commonly used in developing countries.”

The program’s top priority remains “to find opportunities to offer technical support and technology transfer in the provision of essential medicines for HIV and AIDS in resource poor settings,” according to Maponga.

“Ideally those medicines should be of good quality and made available to patients in a way that is affordable and sustainable,” he says. “Patients need to be trained to ensure that they take those medicines as recommended and be prepared to report any unwanted or unexpected reactions that they might experience after taking the medications.”

As a result, program staff members’ activities include training of communities and support groups and educating young pharmacists and pharmacologists, in addition to providing technical support to health policymakers and carrying out pharmacology research aimed at answering pertinent medicines-related questions, Maponga explains.

When asked what else he would like to tell readers worldwide about the UB/UZ program, Maponga replies that he simply “would encourage more readers to participate in international programs and play a part on the international scene.”

Mary Cochrane is senior editor for pharmacy and education, UB News Services.

Related Reading: Maponga's profile