Uganda – CWRU Research Collaboration observes 30th Anniversary

This year marks the 30th year of the research collaboration between researchers at Case Western Reserve University and Uganda. The collaboration began at the invitation of the Ugandan government who invited the late Dr. Frederick Robbins, Nobel Laureate and Dean Emeritus of the CWRU School of Medicine, to visit to establish a research program focusing on the newly emerging epidemic of HIV/AIDS. Dr. Robbins envisioned a multidisciplinary program from the start and reached out to include the Anthropology Department faculty, including then-faculty member, Debra Schumann, and Prof. Janet McGrath as part of the research team. The result was the beginning of 30 years of collaborative research involving the Department of Anthropology faculty and students and faculty and students at Makerere University and the CWRU School of Medicine.

Since then, Prof McGrath has continued to participate in the UCRC research program and is now the longest standing active CWRU faculty member in the collaboration.  Among the important studies undertaken by the social science research team has been research early in the epidemic into HIV risk for women, impact of AIDS on families, and studies of gaps in HIV treatment and service provision.  Since 2014, the collaboration has been extended to include engineering faculty at CWRU and Makerere University. Prof. McGrath collaborates with Prof. Andrew Rollins from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at CWRU and Dr. Robert Ssekitoleko in the BME program at Makerere University to bring engineering and social students together in the classroom and on field trips to Uganda to study and design technologies for health to address locally defined health issues in Luwero District, Uganda.

In addition to the faculty-led research, the collaboration has trained dozens of Ugandans across a variety of disciplines, including Anthropology. Two Ugandan anthropologists have completed their dissertation research with support from the Fogarty International Center through training grants to the CWRU School of Medicine. Dr. Charles Rwabukwali, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Makerere University, received his PhD in Anthropology from CWRU in 1997. In 2017, he was elected to the Ugandan Academy of Sciences. Dr. David Kaawa-Mafigiri is currently Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at Makerere University. He received his PhD in Anthropology from CWRU in 2007, where he is now an adjunct assistant professor.

Other CWRU alumni who have completed dissertations in Uganda include: Dr. Sarah Chard, who is now Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Health Administration and Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She received her PhD in 2001. Dr. Margaret Winchester received her PhD in 2011. She is now in the Health Studies Department at Dickinson College. Both Dr. Chard and Dr. Winchester were supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Megan Schmidt-Sane is currently conducting her NSF funded doctoral research in Kampala.

In 2007, in collaboration with Prof Charles Rwabukwali and Dr. David Kaawa-Mafigiri, Prof. McGrath established the Center for Social Science Research on AIDS (CeSSRA) (NIH Grant HD056917). CeSSRA is located at Makerere University in the School of Social Sciences.  CeSSRA currently houses the first IRB dedicated to social and behavioral sciences at Makerere University, that was organized in part by Dr. Kaawa-Mafigiri. Other Anthropology faculty and alumni who have participated in CeSSRA training workshops are Prof Jill Korbin and Prof Lawrence Greksa and Ph.D. alumni, Dr. James Spilsbury (CWRU School of Medicine) and Dr. Kathyrn Oths (University of Alabama).

The anniversary was celebrated at CWRU in October, featuring a presentation by Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, founding director of the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) in Kampala, Uganda, and a panel of American and Ugandan researchers. The anniversary celebration will continue in Uganda in March 2019.

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