UB Program Improving Care of HIV/AIDS Patients in Zimbabwe

Only African country where HIV incidence is down, thanks to pharmacy school's outreach

By Mary Cochrane

Release Date: August 9, 2007

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An outreach program of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is helping Chiedza Maponga, left, and Tinashe Mudzviti improve care of HIV/AIDS patients in Zimbabwe.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The six weeks that graduate student Tinashe Mudzviti spends at the University at Buffalo this summer could help more than 100,000 people with HIV receive life-saving treatments back in his home country of Zimbabwe.

Mudzviti, a first-year master's student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), is the first UZ graduate student to visit UB as part of a collaborative program between the two universities to improve the quality and distribution of treatments for HIV patients in developing nations.

Now in its sixth year, the International Center for HIV/AIDS Pharmacotherapy Research and Training (ICHAPRT) was founded by Chiedza Maponga, a 1988 UB graduate and the first clinical pharmacist in his native Zimbabwe, and his UB mentor, Gene D. Morse, associate dean for clinical and translational research in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

ICHAPRT has been an important component in recent years in turning the destructive tide of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, where the incidence rate of HIV has dropped to 18 percent from 25 percent, according to Maponga.

"Of all of the southern African countries, Zimbabwe is the only one that is showing a downward trend," he said.

The Zimbabwean government has launched a campaign to distribute free antiretroviral drugs to 120,000 people with HIV by the end of 2007. However, Maponga said there are more than 600,000 who are in need of these life-saving medicines in his home country.

As part of his work at UB, 24-year-old Mudzviti has been learning laboratory research protocols and technology, and has discovered many similarities and a few differences, between research in the two countries.

"There's more of an emphasis on issues of safety, on standard operating procedures, in the United States. I think we will need to learn put more emphasis on everything we do, to make everything precise, to make everything accurate and keep everything tight," he said.

Mudzviti, whose trip to Western New York marks his first journey outside of southern Africa, knows the responsibility that awaits him upon his return to Zimbabwe.

"Coming here and seeing how things are done from this end means that when I go back, I'll be in a better position to show people the practicality of pharmacology theory, that these things can really be done, that we can do them just as well."

Maponga remains committed to reaching the thousands of ailing patients in his homeland and those in nearby nations. His mantra of late is that he works to "build bridges" between Zimbabwe and developed countries like the United States by adopting the methods that have managed to ebb their AIDS epidemics, including drug monitoring, distribution and adherence plans, pharmacological research, education and training.

"Zimbabwe also is one of only three countries in southern Africa that is producing and using its own drugs to fight HIV. The work is progressing and the scientists there want to work to make it different," he said.

The two universities rely heavily on technology transfer to carry on their collaborative work, according to Maponga, who holds academic appointments at both institutions.

"This means that on a given research project, a student in Zimbabwe can be collecting samples while a student here at UB is assigned to do the reading part of the project," Maponga said.

ICHAPRT early on established a pharmacology support laboratory in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe and home of its university, in order to work together on projects with the UB Pharmacotherapy Research Center (PRC), where Morse serves as director and leads a team of several scientists and lab staff members.

At the University of Zimbabwe -- home to the nation's only medical school -- Maponga collaborates with the institution's lead medical investigator for HIV research programs, and directs a support staff that includes nurses and community workers from Harare.

ICHAPRT has attracted support for its mission to further HIV research and prevention, most recently from two donors. The Gilead Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the health and well-being of underserved communities around the world, donated $15,000 for student training. Waters Corporation, a global laboratory equipment supplier, has donated an Alliance high performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) valued at $60,000 for use in graduate student training.

The HPLC equipment, now housed in a lab at UB to be used by visiting students like Mudvziti, eventually will be shipped to Zimbabwe so UZ students can use it to monitor patient health and determine the best treatment approach for individual patients.

Michael Yelle, the senior director of clinical operations at Waters, said the company shares Maponga's vision of helping as many people as possible through education and technology.

"Waters Corporation is committed to improving human health through the use of our laboratory products and technologies for research and patient healthcare. Our work in the clinical market generally and therapeutic drug monitoring specifically has a direct impact on patients' lives. This donation was inspired by our desire to support an important program that strives to help those in need of quality medical care," Yelle said.

Howard S. Jaffe, chairman and president of the Gilead Foundation, said his institution is an "enthusiastic supporter and advocate for the work of ICHAPRT.

"The challenge of responding to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic is one that can only be addressed through partnership and the sustained commitment of governments, academic institutions, non-profit organizations and industry. We look forward to observing the center's progress and impact in Zimbabwe and beyond," Jaffe said.

In addition, the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center in collaboration with the University of California Berkeley AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) paid for Mudzviti's travel to and from Zimbabwe this summer.

The UB/UZ program 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.

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 used commonly 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 said. "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."

Training students like Tinashe Mudzviti properly is the key to the future of the program and the future of countries like Zimbabwe, Maponga said, waving his hand toward the student.

"He is living proof that this is not a program that is undertaken so that we can publish papers and finish a project. We need the students to come here for the essential science and be able to go back there to apply the science. When they finish their degrees, we don't say they're finished. We must continue to groom them until they are able to write grants on their own and contribute to the scientific journals, until they can stand on their own," Maponga said.

The UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will hold a reception to recognize the accomplishments and supporters of ICHAPRT from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, August 9. For information, call Kelly Tooley at (716) 645-3635, ext. 263, or email her at kmtooley@buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.