UMN, Uganda Students Collaborate on Global Health Issues

For students studying global health at the University of Minnesota, there’s a new partnership that’s poised to teach real-world lessons while expanding their education boundaries – literally.

It’s called the Uganda Research Training Collaborative and gives student researchers from the University of Minnesota and Makerere University an opportunity to explore major global health issues under the guidance of seasoned mentors.

It builds upon the Uganda Hub, established by UMN in August 2015 to bolster research and education partnerships in Africa. The Hub is anchored by a strong and growing relationship with Makerere University, which has been working with UMN on various projects since 2005.

“We have a great partnership with Makerere University, so this collaborative research opportunity for students is a logical next step,” said Joshua Rhein, MD, assistant professor within the University of Minnesota Medical School and director of the collaboration. “This immersive experience will greatly benefit students’ understanding of global health research, and improve often neglected health issues around the world.”

This program was launched in November by the Center for Global Health and Responsibility under the leadership of Brooks Jackson, vice president for health sciences and dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School, with guidance from UMN and Makerere University faculty.  Teams of UMN and Makerere University students were formed based on research interests, then assigned mentors from each institution.

Since December, teams have developed proposals, created research plans, and will gather this summer at their study site in Uganda to conduct research. Students will research a variety of topics ranging from the prevalence of bacteria in local livestock to the role screening plays in reducing HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis.

Upon their return, they will complete data analysis and disseminate findings. Strong mentorship is the cornerstone of the program, with teams benefiting from the experience of veteran faculty mentors.

Real Challenges for Real Students

For Anna Stadelman, a graduate student in the School of Public Health, the Uganda RTC participation was a no brainer. The young epidemiology researcher has hopes of one day working in East Africa full time, so an opportunity to explore health issues directly affecting that region was hard to pass up.

“A mentor on a different research project through our Uganda Hub suggested I look into this and it was a perfect fit,” Stadelman said. “We’re looking at lung function and quality of life among people who overcame drug resistant tuberculosis.”

Drug resistant strains of TB are on the rise in Uganda. To treat this infection – which affects the lungs – patients undergo a two year medication regimen. Stress during these two years, Stadelman and colleagues hypothesize, will cause decreased long term lung function. In addition, they’ll analyze quality of life using a culturally appropriate wellbeing assessment.

“For outsiders who want to become global health experts, there’s no better way to learn than by partnering on projects with people around the world,” Stadelman added. “The hope is that this project will improve our research skills while providing actual knowledge that will improve patients lives.”