More than 30 years ago, University of Washington and Kenyan researchers first began partnering to strengthen global health research and action in Kenya. Since then, collaborations have blossomed, mutually strengthening both UW researchers and their Kenyan counterparts and resulting in long-term health impacts in Kenya and beyond. 

“The partnership has developed high-level research capacity, created a critical mass of mentors and inculcated a culture of scientific inquiry in the Kenya health system,” said Peter Cherutich, Director of Preventive and Promotive Health, Kenya Ministry of Health, and UW Global Health alumni.

This sustained engagement in capacity development, research, and action – and the resulting accomplishments – was recently celebrated in a high-level NIH research symposium in Nairobi, along with project site visits in the area.

“The impacts of UW’s sustained engagement in research in Kenya on some of the world’s most vexing health challenges is truly extraordinary,” said Jeffrey Riedinger, Vice Provost, UW Office of Global Affairs, who took part in the events.

These impacts were apparent through the response to a simple question posed by an NIH director to more than 150 researchers participating in the symposium. Participants were asked to raise their hands if they had been directly mentored by UW faculty member King Holmes – 8-10 hands went up. Participants were then asked who had been mentored by those whose hands were raised – several dozen more hands were raised. He then asked everyone in the room who had been directly mentored by those who had just raised their hands to raise their hands – over three-quarters of the people in the room had their hands in the air. 

The research has informed myriad changes in medical and public health practice, and in government policies. Successive generations of UW students and faculty and Kenyan researchers have participated in the partnership, often as co-Investigators. Together they have sustained the partnership across the decades. 

“I have seen no more eloquent a testimony to the impact of sustained engagement by a university faculty. I am proud of the role that NIH has played and will play in this endeavor,” said Roger Glass, Director, John E. Fogarty International Center, who took part in the events.

The long-term global health partnership includes UW, the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenyan and U.S. non-governmental organizations, and Kenyan national and local government agencies. 

In addition to research partnerships, the UW’s engagement in Kenya offers an inspiring example of education abroad. UW School of Medicine Residents participate in month-long rotations at Naivasha Sub-County Referral Hospital paired with their University of Nairobi counterparts. They teach and support clinical activities under the supervision of local Kenyan doctors (some of whom have received some training at UW) and the UW Internal Medicine Chief Resident who spends one-year in Kenya.

The site visits included learning from an innovative research project called the Microbiota and Pre-term Birth study, which includes investigators at UW and Kenyatta National Hospital. This project studies how differences in the gut microbiome (bacteria) influence birth outcomes for women in Kenya. Participants also visited the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women) program, which includes UW researchers seeking to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in Kenya and nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Speakers and participants in the symposium included Diana Bianchi, Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Peter Cherutich, Director of Preventive and Promotive Health, Kenya Ministry of Health; Craig Cohen, University of California, San Francisco; Roger Glass, Director, NIH Fogarty International Center; Joshua Gordon, Director, National Institute of Mental Health; Thomas Kariuki, Director of Programmes, African Academy of Sciences; Nduku Kilonzo, Chief Executive Officer, National AIDS Control Council; Sylvester Kimaiyo, Moi University; Mirembe Nantongo, Chargé d’affaires, US Embassy in Kenya; Ruth Nduati, Kenya Medical Research Institute; and Steve Reynolds, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Participants from the UW/UW Department of Global Health included Elizabeth Bukusi, Research Professor;  Bill Bremmer, former Chair of the UW Department of Medicine; Sarah Case, Program Coordinator; Carey Farquhar, UW Associate Chair for Academic Programs, and Co-Investigator of many UW-Kenya research projects; and Judy Wasserheit, Chair.

More information:
Around the World and Back Again: Global Mental Health Efforts, by Joshua Gordon, Director, NIMH
Update on the NICHD Strategic Plan and Outreach Activities, by Diana Bianchi, Director, NICHD