Howard University Global Initiative (HUG IN)

At the beginning of this century, Ebola was largely seen as a distant albeit deadly disease that only affected tiny villages in the Congo. Medical researchers were on a plodding hunt for a vaccine in the hopes of eliminating any potential bioterrorism threats. Amid this search for preventive options, Professor Sergei Nekhai prepared to present his findings to students, faculty and staff at Howard University’s Research Day. But, Nekhai says, no one came to his presentation.

Fast forward to last year when the virus resurfaced and killed thousands in West Africa and eventually hit U.S. soil in the fall. In October, a patient at Howard University Hospital was tested for the virus, and while the results were negative, the Howard community, like the rest of the nation, started paying a bit more attention. Last summer, Nekhai became the University’s principal investigator in a program to develop early-stage therapeutics for the virus. He and a group of researchers received a $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of a research collaboration with Mount Sinai Hospital, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and other universities.

Nekhai’s road to Ebola research happened by accident. He came to Howard in 2000 and started working with the Center for Sickle Cell Disease, focusing much of his work on HIV/AIDS research. His work there led to a major discovery: Ebola and HIV had a “common pathway” in the way they affect cells, Nekhai says. A small molecule that was slowing down the multiplication of HIV cells was also helpful in inhibiting the Ebola virus.

Creating Opportunities for Global Citizens

Ebola research is just one of several continuing global outreach initiatives across the Howard University community led by Anthony Wutoh, assistant provost of International Programs. The University students, staff and faculty involved in these programs are leading the way in providing access to medicine, medical care and training in Africa, the Caribbean and across the Diaspora.

“I see part of my role in helping to build and develop our infrastructure so that students and faculty and staff can be more engaged internationally,” says Wutoh, who is also dean of the College of Pharmacy. “[Howard is] really creating opportunities for our students to excel and for us to contribute to the global community as global citizens.”

In 2007 in Ethiopia, the University partnered with Addis Ababa University (AAU) for the Clinical Pharmacy Twinning Project to help the AAU pharmacy school upgrade its curriculum to be more clinically oriented and patient-based. Wutoh and several faculty members traveled to the country in November to mark the end of a successful eight-year project. Funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the program implemented a standard five-year clinical pharmacy curriculum for more than 4,000 students and trained faculty at several of the country’s new pharmacy schools.

Last year, the University also incorporated the Howard University Global Initiative in Nigeria (HUGIN), a local NGO that serves as a hub for Howard’s health and training projects in the country. In Nigeria, nearly 50 faculty and staff members are stationed throughout several states to focus on HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services. For the past decade, Howard has trained more than 2,000 pharmacists in Nigeria, provided testing for 750,000 pregnant women and treatment for more than 25,000 HIVpositive women.

While disease treatment and prevention are at the forefront of the University’s global research and outreach, Howard is also facilitating ways to provide healthy food alternatives and clean water to the global community. The Howard University School of Law’s World Food Law Institute celebrates World Food Day every October and focuses on topics such as dietary guidelines and product standards. Marsha A. Echols, director of the institute, says Howard is “beginning to develop a presence in food law and regulation.”

Students Taking Initiative

Faculty members, of course, aren’t the only ones fulfilling Howard’s mission to be leaders in the global community. Students are taking charge, too.

The Howard chapter of Engineers Without Borders is set to begin a clean water project in Agua Caliente, El Salvador. The seven-person team hopes to provide access to potable water, decrease water-borne illnesses and reduce the use of bottled water in the rural town. Previously, the student-led group has implemented projects in Panama, Kenya and Brazil.

For the past five years, the Global Education and Awareness Research Undergraduate Program (GEAR-UP) has hoped to increase the number of Black STEM students who have international study experiences. In January, Lorraine Fleming, principal investigator for GEAR-UP, offered 32 students the opportunity to travel to one of eight host sites: Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, the Philippines, Thailand and Mexico. Last summer, chemistry major Angelica Mack (2017) traveled to the University of the Western Cape in Bellville, South Africa, to study drug efficiency and delivery. Mack says this experience reassured her that she wants to continue international research on environmental science and pharmaceuticals once she starts her career. This summer, she will travel to Thailand to explore more chemical research.

“Although we may live thousands of miles away from our South African brothers and sisters, what we do in America still affects the people there,” says Mack, who is from Winston-Salem, N.C. “It is my ambition to serve internationally so that I may give back to the communities that have given so much to me.”

While these international programs create successful outcomes abroad, Mack and other Howard students prove that these projects are just as beneficial to the University’s on-campus community.

“Seeing for myself the impact that having an international experience had on our own students really just solidified for me the importance of getting an international perspective,” Wutoh says.

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