A program initially launched to help curb “African Brain Drain” is now promoting biomedical research by scientists at universities throughout the Global South.
The Yale Partnerships for Global Health, now entering its 10th year, aims to reduce the burden of infectious diseases around the world by educating, training, and supporting the careers of biomedical and public health researchers.
The program was developed in 2006 by Dr. Elijah Paintsil, associate professor of pediatrics and pharmacology at Yale School of Medicine, and Dr. Michael Cappello, professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine and co-Director of the Yale Africa Initiative.
The two were inspired by the desire to counter “African Brain Drain,” the emigration of highly trained scientists and physicians from their home countries. Paintsil, a Ghanaian native, had experienced the phenomenon first hand.
“I did my medical training in Ghana, but unfortunately I saw myself leaving the shores of Ghana because I had gotten to a point where I could not develop my academic career further,” he said.
While numerous foreign aid programs provide clinical care in Africa, few support biomedical research and training, further accelerating the exodus of talented African scientists to the Global North, he noted.
Fueled by the desire to create viable career paths for other researchers in Ghana who are interested in staying on the African continent, Paintsil and Cappello established a partnership between Yale and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) at the University of Ghana, and the University of Ghana Medical School (UGMS). That partnership was so successful that the program has expanded to include medical trainees and research collaborators from universities in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, Australia and Jamaica — thereby creating a supportive global network of research collaborators.
The Yale Partnership for Global Health brings young medical researchers from all levels of scholarship to Yale and provides them with the mentorship and training they need to thrive at their home universities. Each training experience is personalized. Participants take Yale summer courses, are mentored by Yale faculty members, work in Yale medical research laboratories for up to six months, and develop their own projects. The partnership also coordinates with the participants’ universities so that when the trainees return they can continue their research at their home institutions.
Over 85% of the participants have continued research in their home countries, and alumni of the program have published a multitude of scientific papers. Research conducted at Yale by NMIMR trainees has led to the discovery of two potential new drugs for the treatment of HIV infection and malaria, and research conducted through a collaboration between UGMS and Yale has identified low-cost biomarkers that can be used to monitor the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy in children with HIV/AIDS.
While the program initially focused on training laboratory researchers, two years ago the partnership began to include clinical research training for medical doctors as well, in order to fill another gap contributing to brain drain. Especially in Africa, “physicians doing research is a bit alien,” said Paintsil, noting that the Partnership for Global Health hopes to challenge that paradigm. Yale is collaborating with Ghana’s Physicians and Surgeons Foundation and Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons to encourage viable pathways for Ghanaian physicians to also become researchers and scientists through participation in the Yale Global Health Summer Research Institute.
Dr. Joycelyn Assimeng Dame and Dr. Samuel Asomani, two physicians from Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Ghana, came to Yale this summer as part of the second cohort of physicians to participate in the program. Dame said the opportunity to come study at Yale was unique and fulfilling, particularly because her focus is on pediatric infectious diseases, a field that requires a lot of research expertise. Asomani, who specializes in pulmonary and respiratory medicine, described the program as an opportunity “to know what scientific research and writing is all about and how to approach it.” Learning how to better understand, execute, and communicate scientific research has been very useful in the development of his skills and capabilities as a physician, added Asomani.
Seeing the confidence with which trainees return to their home institutions to continue their work is what Paintsil finds most rewarding, he said, adding that he hopes the Yale Partnership for Global Health will continue to support sustainable research development and build intellectual capacity through collaborative research in Ghana and other countries across the Global South.
Cappello recently returned from meetings in Ghana, where he saw firsthand the impact of Yale’s efforts to build research capacity through its Partnerships for Global Health. “While in Accra I had the opportunity to meet with faculty collaborators and alumni of the Summer Research Institute,” said Cappello. “Past trainees expressed how much the experience at Yale has positively influenced their future career decisions, and inspired an ongoing commitment to collaborative research in global health.”