Vanderbilt Takes AIDS Fight to Nigeria

Dr. Andy Norman meets with a former patient in Nigeria.  
Dr. Andy Norman meets with a former patient in Nigeria.

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s Institute for Global Health has received a one-year, $3 million federal grant to provide AIDS treatment and prevention services in Nigeria. It is the second major treatment grant the institute has received under PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, established by President George Bush in 2003.

The institute received a $1 million pilot grant under PEPFAR in 2006 to provide AIDS treatment and other services in three rural hospitals in Mozambique. That program was expanded to about 10 clinics throughout the country last year with the help of another $4.1 million in PEPFAR funding.

In Nigeria and Mozambique, as of 2005 nearly 5 million people were living with the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and approximately 1.4 million children had been orphaned by the disease, according to the 2006 UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic.

Prevention efforts are crucial, says Institute Director Dr. Sten Vermund, who also is principal investigator of the grants. For every person who is put on anti-retroviral treatment in sub-Saharan Africa, Vermund says, four more people are newly infected with HIV. “But treatment is an essential stopgap to stem the devastation. We must offer care and treatment even as we strive to expand prevention approaches.”

Anti-retroviral drugs block HIV, a retrovirus, from infecting—and killing—the white blood cells of its host.

Educational outdoor theater for World AIDS Day in Mozambique
Educational outdoor theater for World AIDS Day in Mozambique

As of March 31, PEPFAR had supported anti-retroviral treatment for more than 1.6 million people in 15 “focus countries” in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, according to the program’s Web site,

The Vanderbilt-led program in west central Nigeria was developed with the help of two Vanderbilt couples: Dr. John Tarpley, professor of surgery, and his wife, Margaret Tarpley, senior associate in surgery; and Dr. Andy Norman, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and his wife, Judy Norman, a nurse in the Vanderbilt International Travel Medicine Clinic. They have spent many years in Nigeria providing medical and educational services, and John Tarpley continues to train physicians there.

With the help of their contacts, the institute established partnerships with Baptist Medical Center in Ogbomoso, a city of 1.2 million people, and Sobi Specialist Hospital in Ilorin, population 850,000.
Services at five satellite sites will include HIV counseling and testing, treatment to prevent HIV-positive women from infecting their babies, and services for people co-infected with HIV and tuberculosis.

“We will support essential community-based promotion of prevention messages and awareness of all these new services,” Vermund says. “Our program will emphasize close collaboration with national, state and local leadership, including traditional (tribal) rulers.”

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