UNC Project Malawi saves lives abroad, improves health here

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Project Malawi is saving lives in the African nation of about 18 million people.

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A Triangle university is saving lives in an African country and in turn is improving healthcare here in North Carolina.

UNC Project-Malawi started with three doctors and has blossomed into a program that allows UNC medical students to get a crash course in various specialties that have helped thousands of patients.

"When you treat people who are HIV infected they're no longer infectious, so once that was demonstrated, worldwide policy changed overnight," Myron Cohen, director of the UNC Institute for Global Health, said. "But without Malawi that never could've happened."


The work done by the Chapel Hill office is changing the life expectancy for over half a million Malawians with HIV.

"There's been an increased from 42 patients on treatment to over 650,000 and so it's transformative," Mina Hosseinipour, scientific director of UNC Project-Malawi said.

It's helping children too.

"The infection rate was about 30%, of all children born HIV infected mothers, now it's about 2 to 3%," Irving Hoffman, the project's international director, said.

They're tackling other health issues too - like women's health, trauma and cancer. Helping to empower one of the poorest nations in the world, as the university trains Malawians to run the centers UNC built there.

"Malawi has about 18 million people and one medical oncologist, and um, that's me at the moment, Satish Gopal said, cancer program director.

Just five years ago a cancer patient in Malawi would wait 6 months or more for a diagnosis, according the university, with UNC's new pathology lab the wait is just one week.

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While Project-Malawi aims to strengthen sustainable public health across the Atlantic, doctors and med-school students bring that training back.

"The kind of work we do there has a very direct impact on the people of North Carolina, and how we treat them medically in the public health aspects of it, so it's really kind of a one planet thing," Cohen said.
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