As an extension of the Atlantic Center for Research & Evaluation’s (ACRE) continuing international collaborative initiatives, a preliminary concept for the development of a research program was formulated in mid 2002. This includes its partnerships with the University of Liberia (UL) in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa. The emerging relationship between the UL and ACRE was further strengthened through workshops, research-related technology transfer and technical assistance, while research areas of mutual interest, based on needs assessments, were finalized during the ensuring years.
A 5-year HIV/STD project titled, HIV/STD Prevention Program for High Risk Youth in Liberia, was subsequently developed, by a joint UL-PIRE AFRICA team with ACRE (USA) as the prime organization, and subsequently submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) as part of a long-term strategy to leverage resources for the support of the emerging research partnership, the UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center. Finally, in mid-2006, funding was secured from the NIH for this all-important partnership. The principal investigator (PI) of this collaborative HIV/STD prevention project is Dr. Stephen B. Kennedy. The specific aims include the establishment of a local research center, the provision of focused research training programs and technical assistance, and the adaptation, implementation and evaluation of an effective science-based risk reduction program to prevent HIV/STDs among urban youth in Liberia.
The UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center was established at the A. M. Dogliotti College of Medicine of the University of Liberia. Specifically, the UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center is the first HIV/STD prevention research center to be established at the UL in accordance with the specific aims of the HIV/STD prevention research project. The goal of the center is to conduct biomedical, prevention, and clinical-based research-related projects in infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, STDs, hepatitis and tuberculosis. The center is headed by Mr. Albert O. Harris, MSc., a communicable disease epidemiologist as the Center Director and managed by Mrs. Pearl W. Fahnbulleh, MA as the Office Manager and Research Coordinator, respectively. The center is also staffed by a multidisciplinary team of experienced program staff, researchers and consultants with diverse expertise. Examples of the areas of expertise include public health, nursing research, sociology, anthropology, health policy, health administration, research ethics, quantitative and qualitative research, statistics, demography, international health, HIV/STDs and epidemiology, among others.
On February 22, 2007, the official opening ceremony of the UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center was held in the auditorium of the UL’s School of Medicine in Liberia. Of particular note, the President of the UL, Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh; the Deputy Minister of Health & Social Welfare of the Republic of Liberia, Dr. Moses Pewu; the Vice President of ACRE’s (USA) Board of Trustees, Dr. J. Price Foster; the Vice President for Graduate Education at the UL, Dr. James Kollie; the Acting Dean of the UL’s School of Medicine, Dr. Tabeh Freeman; and a representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) Resident Coordinator accredited to Liberia were in attendance. Others included the Executive Director of the Christian Health Association of Liberia (CHAL), a vibrant Liberian-based health organization, Mrs. Ellen George-Williams, MSN, and the Coordinator of the Graduate Program at Cuttington University (CU) and Chair of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the UL, Ms. Cecelia Morris, MSN, among others.
During brief remarks marking the opening ceremony, Dr. Conteh elaborated on the genesis of the UL-PIRE AFRICA partnership, dating back to mid-2002 when Drs. Kennedy and Knowlton Johnson visited Liberia, extended many thanks and appreciation to ACRE-USA for strengthening the collaborative relationship, and expressed the hope that the project would ultimately contribute to the mitigation of HIV/STDs among the increasing population of vulnerable youth in Liberia. Dr. Foster spoke of the mutual benefits of the existing partnership between UL and ACRE (e.g., publications, cultural exchange, grants, etc.) and emphasized the need to diversify the current research portfolio (e.g., HIV/STDs) to attract other senior investigators from ACRE-USA with significant research expertise in other areas such as substance abuse, mental health, technology transfer and environmental strategies.
Dr. Foster emphasized that the diversification of research portfolios with this partnership may be critically needed to leverage additional resources for a resource-constrained, post-conflict setting like Liberia. He then extended many thanks and appreciation to the UL administration and the UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center program staff, including Mr. Harris, for the warm welcome, support and hospitality accorded him during his enjoyable stay in Liberia and looks forward to returning to Liberia in the not-too-distant future. Lastly, Dr. Pewu, extended greetings to all attendees and platform guests, particularly to Drs. Conteh and Foster of the UL and ACRE-USA, from the Minister of Health & Social Welfare of the Republic of Liberia, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, for the establishment of the UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center and expressed the hope that findings from the project would eventually assist the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare to develop, modify and/or guide future health policy on best practices for vulnerable youth, who bear the greatest burden of HIV/STDs, in Liberia.
At the conclusion of the opening program, invited guests were then taken on a guided tour of the UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center by Mr. Harris. The tour included an inspection of the various offices and the conference room, as well as available resources such as computers, printers, LCD projectors, file cabinets, tables and chairs, internet system, and air-conditioned units, respectively. In addition, the guests were provided customized souvenirs, courtesy of Ms. Diane Williams of ACRE-USA, which included ACRE-inscribed coffee mugs, pens, writing pads and bags, and then treated to nicely served refreshments, by program staff, in the comfortable air-conditioned UL-PIRE AFRICA Africa Center conference room.