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DGHI and African Partners Are Building Sociobehavioral Research Capacity in Tanzania

March 17, 2015

As part of a training grant funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Fogarty International Center, the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) and Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) hosted a sociobehavioral sciences symposium on March 2-3 in Moshi, Tanzania.

The symposium—titled “Illuminating Sociobehavioral Sciences Research in HIV”—was designed to:

  • Raise awareness about the dearth of sociobehavioral researchers and care providers in Tanzania
  • Promote the need to focus on this type of research and care in the context of HIV/AIDS 
  • Discuss available training opportunities 
  • Share current HIV/AIDS-related sociobehavioral science research, which has historically been difficult for Tanzanians to access 
  • Engage community stakeholders in the project

The first in an annual series that will span the five-year grant, the symposium covered a range of topics, from care of HIV-infected adolescents to predictors of virologic failure in Tanzania to the development of a new master’s degree program in sociobehavioral sciences at KCMC. In breakout sessions, participants explored topics such as key mental health issues in HIV-positive patients in Tanzania and specific research areas in substance and alcohol abuse in Tanzania.

The Need for More Sociobehavioral Science Experts Is Clear 

Expertise in sociobehavioral sciences is in short supply in Tanzania. In fact, Moshi, a municipality of approximately 184,000 people, has had only one psychiatrist, Edward Ringo, for the last decade. As in other countries, mental health carries stigma in Tanzania; even mental health careers are stigmatized, which deters Tanzanians from studying psychiatry and related fields.

Through this NIH grant, DGHI researchers are collaborating with partners at KCMC and the University of Cape Town to help address this dire shortage. The overall goal of the grant is to develop human resource capacity in Tanzania to conduct research and provide clinical care for sociobehavioral issues in the context of HIV/AIDS—for example, addressing questions such as how social factors affect access to care or acceptance of HIV testing.

Symposium Featured a Varied Group of Presenters from DGHI, Tanzania and South Africa

The regional medical director of Moshi, Andrewleon Quaker, gave the keynote address. Among the other presenters were:

  • Raimos Olomi, executive director of KCMC 
  • Christopher Colvin, head of the division of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Cape Town
  • Edward Ringo, consultant psychiatrist at Mawenzi Regional Hospital
  • Dafrosa Itemba, executive director of Tanzania Women Research Foundation (TAWREF)
  • Sia Msuya, director of the Institute of Public Health at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College
  • DGHI professors John Bartlett (also a principal investigator on the grant), Dorothy Dow, Jan Ostermann and Catherine Staton

Unexpected Participants Provided Invaluable Insight

The target audience for the symposium was students, clinicians and researchers—primarily those who are not currently doing sociobehavioral research but who are interested in learning more about it. However, the 60+ attendees were comprised mostly of graduate students, medical students, sociobehavioral researchers and—to the surprise of the hosts—many members of the Moshi community advisory board. 

The community advisory board, a group of laypeople who work with researchers to help shape the HIV/AIDS research agenda in the area, turned out to be some of the most insightful participants because of their vast knowledge and deep understanding of HIV/AIDS issues in the community. For example, they provided some new information about intravenous drug use in the area.

Their input is already inspiring the project team to think differently about next year’s symposium. “The community advisory board blew me away,” said Charles Muiruri, project coordinator and a program director at DGHI. “Next year, we need to cast a wider net and involve the community even more. They’re going to be critical in helping us understand the sociobehavioral aspects of HIV/AIDS research and care in Tanzania.” 

The training grant is led by John Bartlett and Kathleen Sikkema, director of DGHI’s global mental health initiative, in collaboration with Raimos Olomi and Blandina Mmbaga of KCMC. 

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Participants at Symposium
Participants and presenters at the "Illuminating Sociobehavioral Sciences Research in HIV" symposium in Moshi, Tanzania

The local community is going to be critical in helping us understand the sociobehavioral aspects of HIV/AIDS research and care in Tanzania.

Charles Muiruri, project coordinator

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