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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $25 million yesterday to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Harvard Center for International Development for an AIDS research and prevention program in Nigeria.
The largest single private grant that HSPH has ever received, the gift will fund the Nigerian AIDS Prevention Initiative to combat HIV infection in Nigeria.
"Everybody here is absolutely thrilled, and we think we can make a difference in this disease on the most populous nation on the continent," said Robin Herman, director of communications for HSPH.
Phyllis J. Kanki, associate professor of pathobiology in the faculty of public health, will direct the program and work in conjunction with Nigerian scientists.
The project will focus on Nigeria's population and trends concerning the spread of the disease, rather than on the chemical nature of the disease.
"We will not be working doing research with test tubes," Kanki said. "We will be studying populations and epidemiology of the disease."
The researchers intend to "identify groups that will be targeted as high risk populations," she said.
The goal of the project is to slow the rate of spread of the disease in Nigeria.
"I don't consider this research to be separate from intervention," Kanki said.
Kanki will remain at Harvard and work with Nigerian scientists. Money from the grant will help provide training and laboratory facilities for the scientists.
Through the initiative, the scientists will also work with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Nigerian Ministry of Health to educate the public.
"One of the goals that we have is to have the president make a public speech directed at the youths of Nigeria," Kanki said.
Kanki has been directing a similar research and intervention program in Senegal since 1985. Senegal's levels of infection have remained at two percent, far below the 25 percent to 30 percent infection rates of other African nations.
The research team plans to use the work in Senegal as a model for the Nigerian project, Kanki said.
This is the second grant that HSPH has received from the Gates Foundation. The previous grant, of more than $700,000, was used to combat parasitic worms in African countries.
The Gates Foundation's primary goal is to extend science and technology to poverty stricken areas, with a focus on the fields of public health and education.
The Gates Foundation has also made grants to sponsor research and intervention projects at other Harvard schools. These grants include a $44.7 million given to Harvard Medical School for research into tuberculosis treatment this past July.
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