June 18, 2024

Duke and the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre: Making Progress Through Collaboration

Author Aly Semigran, Content Specialist

It is approximately 7,785 miles (about 12,528.74 km) between Duke University’s Global Health Institute in Durham, North Carolina and the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Tanzania. While these two locations may seem worlds away (and multiple flights apart), they are powerfully connected. Together, these two enterprises have developed health science educational opportunities and research innovations to advance health equity in East Africa.

Established over twenty years ago by John A. Bartlett, MD and Nathan Tielman, MD, MPH, this multi-continent-spanning initiative collaborates on a wide scope of evidence-based health innovations, including mental health, maternal health, pediatric health, emergency medicine, malaria, HIV, cancer, emerging infectious diseases and trauma and injury care.

“The guiding principle of partnership building is that we have a deep commitment to shared priorities,” explains Duke Global Health Institute Deputy Director Wendy Prudhomme-O’Meara, Ph.D. “I think global health is unique because it’s not really a discipline, it’s a worldview.”

Dorothy Dow, MD, MSc, an associate professor of research in Global Health at Duke, echoes the sentiment regarding the “thriving and diverse” joint effort and their team’s cultural awareness, understanding and mindfulness of “what the needs on the ground are,” adding, “It’s impressive how far we have come together with a very strong partnership.”

A major accomplishment of Duke and KCMC, as noted by the group’s co-leader (and director of the Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute) Blandina T. Mmbaga MD, MMED, PhD, is that they are “one of the first institutions to establish an adolescent and youth clinic in Tanzania.”

The clinic, known as Voice of Youth (or “Sauti ya Vijana” or “SYV”), aims to support young people in Tanzania who are “coping with HIV status and related stigmas and transforming their lives” through youth mentors and group leaders who provide mental health services, as well as skills training to support themselves. “We also built out youth community advisory boards in all of the regions where SYV works,” Dow explains, adding, “not only to give support in improving health equity, but to support local needs.”

“This collaboration [between Duke and KCMC] has been the catalyst for research capacity building and healthcare education training support,” Mmbaga says, adding that philanthropic support has been critical to these efforts over the past two decades. “Each donation [and gift] makes a difference in patient care, training and research within our institutions, as well as improving people’s wellbeing.”

When it comes to ongoing projects, collaborations and capacity building, the team credits the help that unrestricted gifts via donor-advised funds (DAFs) can provide. “Unrestricted giving is critical,” says Prudhomme-O’Meara. “It allows you to be focused and to punch above our weight because we can identify a need and use that philanthropy to cover that gap in a unique way. It can be transformative.”

Photo courtesy of Duke Global Health Institute staff.