Involving ‘Alumni’ in Strengthening the Tropical Disease Research Program

TDR PresentationsmThe Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR – Unicef/UNDP/World Bank/WHO) seized the opportunity of the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) 6th Pan-African Conference on Malaria in Durban 6?11 October to touch base with its ‘alumni’ who have received research and training grants over the almost 40 years since its inception.  A workshop was held discuss a new TDR alumni network platform and seek input on ideas for what that platform might look like and accomplish.

TDR has trained and supported thousands of researchers across the globe. We would like to assess how we can continue to support our alumni and their connections to people and institutions. This is a major new initiative that TDR will develop in 2014, and it wanted people who are familiar with TDR to provide feedback to initial plans for a new platform that will allow for better tracking of career progression and promotion, and to get ideas on how to increase opportunities for collaborations with other researchers and funders.

The idea of an alumni network was received enthusiastically by the more than 40 participants at the session, many of whom attested to the crucial role TDR played in their scientific careers either by supporting their doctoral studies or providing them grants that resulted in published work that help promote their careers.

Participants discussed various web based options where alumni profiles could be maintained and opportunities to share skills and solicit collaboration on research and training activities.  Other suggestions included an alumni newsletter and regular alumni meetings to coincide with international conferences that address the diseases of poverty.

TDR Director John Reeder said the organization was enthusiastic about receiving alumni input.  This participation will hopefully reinvigorate an organization that had been in a quiet transition over the past few years. The network will provide a good opportunity to learn how TDR investment in individuals and small teams has spawned further discoveries and disease control innovations.

On a personal basis, I can say that TDR grants to our team at the University of Ibadan beginning in 1981, helped us refine the concepts and capacities of volunteer community health workers (CHW) in tropical disease control including a contribution to guinea worm elimination in Nigeria, dissemination of pre-packaged anti-malarial drugs and refining the concept of the community directed distributor of ivermectin for onchocerciasis control and elimination.

These CHW principles have been worked into a new offering on Coursera, “Training and Learning Programs for Community Health Workers,” so that others can benefit from the lessons engendered through TDR support. Hopefully other alumni can use the network to share the benefits they have gained from TDR.

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