The International Clinical, Operational and Health Research Training Award (ICOHRTA)



This report has been prepared by the Principal Investigator, Professor Peter R Mason on behalf of the Biomedical Research & Training Institute.


Improvements in health care have significant impact on society at both individual and national levels, particularly in settings where resources are limited. Health and well-being provide opportunities for individuals to raise families, improve education and engage in activities that benefit themselves and their communities. At a national scale there is a well-established relationship between health and economic development, with healthy communities contributing to meeting national goals and aspirations.

To achieve healthy communities, the health policies and plans of national governments must be based on programs that have evidence to show they are effective. Research is therefore an integral part of an evidence-based approach. Research directed towards solving health problems has a particular effect in economically disadvantaged communities and countries, helping to target scarce resources towards programs that are effective and efficient. Ideally research activities should be designed, conducted and disseminated by scientists with local knowledge of the environment, customs and situations. Unfortunately scientists with specific skills for these kinds of investigation often are not found in settings of greatest need. Improving the capacity of young scientists to design, implement and disseminate the results of health research is seen an essential step in health and economic development. In order to support this concept, especially in the context of the growing epidemic of HIV infection and its impact on national growth, the National Institutes of Health introduced the International Clinical, Operational and Health Research Training Award (ICOHRTA) in AIDS and TB to promote the development of research capacity in resource limited settings.

The Biomedical Research & Training Institute (BRTI) with its US based partner, Stanford University Medical Center (SUMC) and in collaboration with the College of Health Sciences (CHS) of the University of Zimbabwe successfully competed for an ICOHRTA grant in 2005, and for a renewal of this grant in 2010. This report covers the 10 year period of these awards.

The BRTI is an independent institution registered as a non-profit making company in Zimbabwe in 1995. Its purpose is to foster research in health, whether clinical, biomedical, epidemiological or health systems research, that contributes to the well-being of the peoples of Zimbabwe and the southern Africa region. As an independent institution, the BRTI sets its own policies and agenda, with a focus on internationally-funded research that builds local capacities at individual, institutional and national levels. Training of young scientists in research is an essential component of BRTI activities, and short training courses in specific topics (serological techniques, quality control, data management and research ethics) were provided from the very beginning of the Institute. The ICOHRTA grant enabled the BRTI to develop these courses into a cohesive training program on essential skills needed by a researcher to be able to contribute to science at an international level.

The training program was directed at a variety of targets, with a focus on postgraduate students, but including also faculty at academic institutions, researchers at national and non-governmental research institutes and those in health administration at national and local levels. Post-graduate support was limited to students registered at universities in Zimbabwe, rather than those studying outside the country in order to address issues of preventing “brain drain” and contribute to institutional and national development at a time of severe hardship. Support was given to enable students to complete their theses and gain a higher degree that would set them on a career path in research and academia. This financial support was supplemented by academic support through the short course program and through support for supervision and mentorship. Opening the short course program to a wider audience was a particular feature of the ICOHRTA that encouraged development of research skills at institutional, national and regional levels and facilitated networking among young researchers. This would be expected to continue to have impact long after the program was completed. The third main activity of the BRTI ICOHRTA program was short term support for students and their supervisors to work for at other institutions in the US or in the region. The aim was to enable access to equipment not available locally, to learn new techniques and to interact with collaborators as part of professional development and networking.