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Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility’s Uganda hub exposes students to global health research

Amy Tran, Pharm.D., M.P.H. student leads a lecture at Makarere University.

At Mulago Hospital, it’s hot outside, like a particularly humid August day back in the Midwest. Doctors and nurses make their rounds through the halls, checking on patients, making treatment adjustments, diagnosing diseases. Amy Tran, a dual Pharm.D., M.P.H. student from the University of Minnesota, takes notice of the differences in the resource-limited setting as she follows pharmacist Winnie Nambatya throughout her day at Mulago Hospital and its partner university, Makarere University. The limitations and differences don’t discourage her, but rather inspire.

“That was my first time traveling to Africa and the experience was eye-opening and enlightening,” Tran said.

She went to Uganda under the mentorship of Melanie Nicol, Pharm.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of the College of Pharmacy. Nicol, who studies HIV in women, received a seed grant from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Global Health & Social Responsibility (CGHSR). CGHSR operates the AHC Uganda Hub, which aims to advance research and education in East Africa, by focusing on partnership and initiatives that are mutually beneficial to all collaborators. It also provides sustainable organizational infrastructure to support global health endeavors.

Nicol’s initial grant helped her develop partnerships in Uganda and establish relationships with researchers at Makarere University and Mulago Hospital.

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Melanie Nicol, Pharm.D., Ph.D., used a Uganda hub seed grant to study HIV in women in Uganda

In fact, one of her current studies, which uses biopsies from women with HIV to understand HIV treatment effectiveness, all stemmed from a connection she made at the initial hub launch back in 2014.

“It all came about from being involved in the hub,” Nicol said.

It also allowed her to bring a student – Amy Tran – with her.

Tran had already served as a representative on the CGHSR’s Global Health Student Advisory Board, and with a strong interest in global health, the opportunity was a perfect fit.

“Amy was able to see pharmaceutical care in a different country but she did it through the lens of a clinical research project,” Nicol said.

Tran assisted in study design, developing protocols and data collection tools, preparing IRB applications and analyzing existing data for collaborative clinical pharmacy research projects. She also spent time on rounds with Nambatya in the neurosurgery ward, working mostly with patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

Tran was also able to count the experience as an Advance Pharmacy Practice Elective.

Dr. Nicol, Dr. Nambatya and Amy Tran review charts for a research study.

Dr. Nicol, Dr. Nambatya and Amy Tran review charts for a research study.

Tran was able to assist Nambatya on a retrospective chart review of traumatic brain injury patients. Many patients at Mulago suffered from severe seizures despite receiving medication to suppress them. The research team is still analyzing data, but they believe dosing could be the cause. In the U.S., care providers have precise dose measurement tools which can fine-tune dosages to specialize for each patient. Uganda is resource-limited, so patients generally all receive the same dose of a drug. It’s possible patients differ in their response to those doses, so Tran hopes their findings could help health care leaders at Makarere University develop tools or processes to address the issue.

“From my experience in participating in rounds and research, the faculty at Makarere are incredibly knowledgeable, creative and resourceful. It was empowering and inspiring to be united on our passion and drive to help others,” Tran said. “We are not only members of our immediate community, but we also belong to a broader community that transcends geographical borders.”

When asked if she’d do it again, the answer comes easily.

“Yes, I would highly recommend it.”

Nicol hopes to provide the opportunity to more students, too.

“One of the goals of the hub is to get students involved in global health, from both Minnesota and Uganda,” Nicol said. “Part of the reason I came into academia was to mentor and teach. This experience was very rewarding.”

LtR: Winnie Nambatya, Amy Tran, Melanie Nicol

LtR: Winnie Nambatya, Amy Tran, Melanie Nicol

Photos: Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility

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