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Battling HIV/AIDS and the healthcare crisis in Africa

The spread of HIV/AIDS across Africa has had a devastating effect for decades. Richard Wamai, assistant professor of African American studies, is researching how a range of interventions — particularly male circumcision — can offer hope for the continent’s future in HIV prevention.

“HIV prevalence across Africa really varies by patterns of male circumcision more than by any other indicator,” Wamai said.

He said research studies dating back to late 1980s have noted the potential for male circumcision to reduce alarming HIV/AIDS prevalence, and randomized control trials in recent years confirming its effectiveness have energized global health agencies into action.

Wamai is collaborating with other experts from among others, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Harvard University, Brown University, the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and the University of Sydney, to examine how male circumcision programs are being carried out in different African countries, the cost effectiveness of this and other HIV/AIDS interventions, and how large-scale interventions affect other health services many Africans desperately need.

As part of a health-service systems study, one project will analyze male circumcision efforts in Kenya. Wamai points to increased efforts in 14 African countries to circumcise millions of men in a short period of time. For example, in 2009, he says, 36,000 men were circumcised in a 30-day Rapid Results Initiative in Nyanza, Kenya.

The project also focuses on what happens to other basic health services — such as maternal and child health, and malaria and tuberculosis treatment — during these massive scale-up programs, which mobilize hundreds of health-care workers in one place.

“The introduction of a new intervention brings additional resources onto an existing system, but when a lot of healthcare personnel are being taken away from daily activities at health facilities during such accelerated scale-up, there are inevitable impacts at the health-systems level which we want to explore,” Wamai said.

Wamai, whose research aligns with Northeastern’s commitment to solve global health challenges, is also conducting studies on health and HIV/AIDS in the United States among African-born immigrants. One study is focusing on populations in Massachusetts, New York and Washington, D.C.

In addition, he and a colleague at Harvard Medical School will begin a new study later this year on cervical cancer in Cameroon. It will assess knowledge and attitudes of cervical cancer in the country on a population being targeted for a vaccination program being conducted by Elizabeth Glaser Foundation.

View selected publications ofRichard Wamaiin IRis, Northeastern’s digital archive.

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