A meeting with USAID and IAVI representatives

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KAVI Director, Prof. Omu Anzala makes a presentation during the meeting.

Basic science, social science, journalism. These were some of the areas represented at the KAVI-ICR boardroom at Kenyatta on the morning of 10th November 2016. In attendance were delegates from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), University of Nairobi, Nation Media Group and KAVI.

The overarching agenda was to showcase and discuss KAVI's ongoing work and progress, with the goal of increasing support and collaboration. Indeed, these were the key ideas throughout the meeting, as were growth and diversification.

Professor Omu Anzala, director of KAVI, began by facilitating introductions. He went on to outline KAVI's strategic direction, “When KAVI was established as an institute in 2013, our area of focus was clinical trials. We had to expanded our mandate, to include work in communicable and non-communicable diseases, training at PhD level and knowledge translation”.

Professor Anzala highlighted collaborations and links that have been forged with various international organisations and institutions since KAVI's inception. Among them are universities such as Toronto, Oxford, Helsinki, Manitoba, London (School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine); global institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); consortiums such as the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA); and private companies, for example Qiagen (Germany/Netherlands), JanseenPharmaceutica (Belgium) and Bio-Zeq (Kenya).

KAVI and the University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and Mass Communication are teaming up with Nation Media Group (NMG) to disseminate health information. Dr. Wambui Kiai, from the school, said that there are different models to achieving this, “The first is to train health professionals in communication, and the second is to train journalists in health reporting”.

An author for the Daily Nation, Mr. Bernard Mwinzi, told those present that the purpose of the collaboration is to bridge an information gap. NMG have 10 science and health reporters currently, with plans to train more. With publications in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, it is critical to consider the regional impact of what is being reported, said Mr. Mwinzi.

Mentorship and training are essential to growth and continuity; to this end, KAVI holds several trainings on good clinical and laboratory practices, bio-ethics, grant writing, vaccinology and vaccine literacy. “We have trained a total of 1,606 people from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda since 2010. We are also involved in South-South training and collaboration. Earlier this year, five researchers from India representing three institutions came to a mucosal training workshop at KAVI”, laboratory manager Mr. Farah Bashir said.

Regarding this, Dr. Jill Gilmour, executive director for human immunology at IAVI commented, “I commend KAVI's willingness to reach out, to teach and to learn. There is capacity building here and it is evident”.

Deputy programme director at KAVI Professor Walter Jaoko presented results from several clinical vaccine trials. In one, 72 volunteers were enrolled and three vaccines were tested in various combinations. The vaccines were tested for safety in the United Kingdom. They were found to be well tolerated, with both broad and durable results, forming the basis of a future trial set to have 61 volunteers from Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

Dr. Marianne Mureithi a researcher, discussed ongoing studies on stem cells from umbilical cord blood and adipose tissue. KAVI began research into stem cells in 2014. Due to ethical controversies, only adult stem cells are studied. The potential therapeutic uses of stem cells are vast, from treating stroke, spinal chord injury, different cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, genetic bone disease to anti-ageing. She said the work has generated a lot of interest in the medical community, particularly in orthopaedics, dentistry and plastic surgery, with hopes of eventually opening a stem cell and bone marrow research centre at the University of Nairobi.

Five of the nine enrolled PhD students briefly outlined their work: Dr. David Githang'a – the prevalence and impact of aflatoxin exposure in children; Dr. Gaudensia Mutua – feasibility of conducting HIV vaccine clinical trials among adolescents; Dr. Moses Masika – arboviruses and zoonoses; Dr. Jeanette Dawa – impact and cost-effectiveness of introducing the influenza vaccine; and Ms. Emily Nyariki – volunteers' perceptions and experiences of clinical research participation, looking at KAVI volunteers.

Despite their diversity, one feature was common among all the studies; at each stage – from conception to results – the researchers had in mind the ways in which their work could be applied and translated to practical use. “The high calibre of students here is very impressive,” Dr. Benny Kottiri, chief of the research division at USAID said. “Translational research is vastly different from academic research. What you are doing can be applied to other low-income areas and this is vital”.

As the meeting drew to a close, Margaret McCluskey a senior technical advisor for HIV vaccines at USAID who has worked closely with KAVI over the years pointed out, “Since 2001, KAVI has developed to be more secure, more robust and more diverse. It is gratifying and humbling to observe the level of growth so far and we look forward to seeing greater achievements”. Chief medical officer and executive director of medical affairs at IAVI Frances Priddy added, “KAVI is a clear example of how far investment in an idea can go when there is dedication”.

 

 

 

Contacts

KAVI Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR)

College of Health Sciences

University of Nairobi

P.O. Box 19676 - 00202

Nairobi,

Kenya.

 

Telephone: +254-20-2717694/2725404

 

Mobile: +254-722-207417

 

Fax: +254-20-2714613

 

E-mail: kavi@kaviuon.org

 

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