Alison Norris, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Ohio State College of Public Health, received the OSU Emerging International Engagement Award on May 3 from the Office of International Affairs for the research program she helps lead in Malawi called Umoyo wa Thanzi (UTHA, Health for Life).
Also honored were Norris’ faculty collaborators on the Malawi program, Abigail Norris Turner, PhD, associate professor in the OSU College of Medicine and the College of Public Health, and Jesse Kwiek, PhD, associate professor in the OSU College of Arts and Sciences.
The Emerging International Engagement Award recognizes Ohio State faculty and staff that have demonstrated outstanding ability in international outreach and engagement. The award honors one program that “has shown short-term results and has great potential for long-term impact, achievement and scholarship.”
The Umoyo wa Thanzi team has been working on community and clinic-based projects in collaboration with the non-governmental organization, Child Legacy International (CLI), since 2012 in Malawi. The CLI organization provides direct community access for researchers and continuity through their daily operations in the areas around Malawi.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most if its citizens lack basic needs such as clean water, a healthy food supply, healthcare, and sufficient housing.
Malawi is also a great place to be. People are generally very easy going, and so it is easy to be there. Many people in Malawi are very poor, however, so I am hopeful that our research can provide something positive in alleviating hardship.
CLI is completely powered by renewable energy sources, has 18 full-time staff and management, and has a well-developed pharmacy, laboratory, classroom, large research office, and treatment rooms.
Through a partnership between the Ohio State faculty, CLI, and the University Of Malawi College of Medicine, a community-based study was conducted within the UTHA program. Findings from the study aim to help increase the level of existing, accessible, and affordable health technologies that can be used to improve health outcomes.
“We are collecting longitudinal data to understand how people make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health,” says Norris. “We hope to use these findings to create interventions to help people access the best care. For example, we are developing a tool to help identify who is at risk for an unintended pregnancy, and so that we can connect those people to care with someone who can provide contraception.
The structure of the UTHA has become a model for the development of sustainable partnerships between universities and non-governmental organizations.
In the future, the ongoing partnership between OSU, CLI, and the University of Malawi College of Medicine will be focusing on designing culturally acceptable interventions, based on research, to improve the health of people in Malawi. UTHA is currently looking to get support to create a Center for Research, Learning and Innovation (CRLI) in the rural areas of Malawi. The CRLI would provide training for health workers and practitioners that will provide care and community outreach to improve public health in Malawi.
“I love my research team,” says Norris, who is also an assistant professor in the OSU College of Medicine. “The Malawians on the team are creative, thoughtful, hardworking and committed. We have a great time designing research studies and implementing them together. I also have wonderful collaborators here at OSU, both faculty and students. The work is really a group effort, carried out with people who I love to work with.
“Malawi is also a great place to be. People are generally very easy going, and so it is easy to be there. Many people in Malawi are very poor, however, so I am hopeful that our research can provide something positive in alleviating hardship.”