2022 GHI grants address the complexity of global health challenges

Five women sitting together and laughing.
  • Establishing a cohort of girls in Zimbabwe to examine how well the HPV vaccine works over time
  • Assessing the health of sanctuary chimpanzees in Uganda and Republic of Congo by identifying the viruses in their saliva
  • Understanding and addressing child malnutrition in Delhi, India, post-COVID
  • Studying the links between the loss of forest cover and children’s health in Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania

These are a few of the projects funded by the 2022 grants and awards from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute.

Recipients from across campus received four Seed Grants, five Graduate Student Research Awards, one Visiting Scholar Award and one Henry Anderson III Graduate Student Award in Environmental and Occupational Public Health. Their projects show the diversity and complexity of global health challenges in Wisconsin and around the world.

“The still ongoing pandemic has shown the importance of connecting across the planet to study the factors that drive these outbreaks and negatively impact global health,” says Jorge Osorio, GHI’s incoming director. “GHI is very excited to fund these grants that will encourage multicultural, international research and collaborations that will bring equity and diversity to our campus, provide opportunities for UW students and researchers to work together and enhance the reputation and reach of UW science throughout the world.”

The 2022 recipients include faculty, staff and graduate students from Nursing, Letters & Science, Agricultural and Life Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, Medicine and Public Health, and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Their work covers topics from food insecurity to improving anesthesia care to the effects of deforestation on health. The annual grants and awards range from $3,000 to $20,000 to support global health projects.

Here is a closer look at four of the awards.

Promoting HPV vaccine in Rural Zimbabwe

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Megan Fitzpatrick

Megan Fitzpatrick, M.D., an associate professor in Pathology in the School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH), began her work with cervical cancer screening and prevention in rural Zimbabwe in 2016 as a pathology resident. She moved from screening adult women for cervical cancer to looking at mother-daughter pairs to discover how many girls were getting vaccinated for HPV.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, so Fitzpatrick is looking at how effective the HPV vaccine is in girls infected with HIV. She will also study how well the vaccine works against genotypes of HPV that are more common in Zimbabwe than the U.S. and may not be covered by the vaccine.

The country sponsors a school-based HPV vaccination program, and coverage seems to be high. Whether girls who do not attend school are being vaccinated is unknown. Fitzpatrick hopes to address this gap with community health care workers she previously helped train to provide cervical cancer screening to communities. They will now provide information about the vaccine to improve vaccination rates in rural areas.

With the help of the GHI Seed Grant, Fitzpatrick will initiate the study among a cohort of girls that she can follow over time to see how well the vaccine works against HPV and, eventually, cervical cancer. She has 174 girls enrolled and is hoping to reach 500, opening doors to other programs and activities to improve cervical cancer prevention in underserved settings. “Without a pilot grant, it’s really hard to get a longitudinal cohort like this going and to keep it going,” she says.

Health of sanctuary chimpanzees in Africa

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Emily Dunay

Emily Dunay, VMD, a doctoral student in Pathobiological Sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM), is looking at viruses that infect chimpanzees in two African sanctuaries. Sanctuary chimpanzees, usually orphans rescued from the illegal bush meat or pet trades, present an opportunity to study animals that are born in the wild and live in semi free range settings.

“For the well-being of the sanctuary chimpanzees, the humans taking care of them and the wild chimpanzees in the area, it’s important to know what viruses are present,” Dunay says. Knowledge regarding the infectious disease status of the sanctuary chimps is limited; learning more about the viruses they carry will provide insights into their health, which has implications for sanctuary management and the conservation of wild chimps.

The most common sample type used to test for pathogens in wild primate populations is feces. Blood sampling is more feasible and often used in captive settings. Dunay is going to test saliva, with the goal of identifying the complete viral community in these sanctuary populations. She will compare her results to previous work using blood samples, which will help assess the use of saliva for detecting viruses.

“We know that certain viruses replicate in the oral cavity and can potentially be spread via saliva,” Dunay says. “However, the salivary virome of wild-born chimpanzees has not yet been examined, and we need to look at several sample types in order to provide a comprehensive assessment of sanctuary chimpanzee health.”

children gathering in an open area
Seed Grant recipient Priya Mukherjee will expand her work studying food insecurity in India. Here, children gather for an after school meal. (Photo courtesy of Mukherjee)

Post-COVID food security among Delhi’s children

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Priya Mukherjee

Priya Mukherjee, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), began studying malnutrition and health in rural India while in graduate school. Later work took her to Bangladesh, where survey analysis showed her that food insecurity had increased significantly in households just outside the city during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic was a huge economic shock,” she says. “These households don’t have a lot of savings or other ways to address negative shocks to their income.” Her analysis showed that about 90 percent of the respondents had reduced the number and size of meals they ate and were eating less nutritious food.

A GHI Seed Grant will allow Mukherjee to move her work from rural and semi-urban areas into urban areas in northern India. “This will look at the urban core and what’s happening to vulnerable households and food security,” she says. “As countries are going in and out of COVID episodes, food insecurity continues to be impacted and may be getting even worse with increasing inflation.”

The Seed Grant allows her to lay the groundwork for a new study, make connections with stakeholders, including local non-governmental organizations, government officials and households, and identify key issues and local research partners. The research will help discern who is being most impacted (mothers, children, female children) and investigate ways to mitigate the impact of inflation and other economic shocks on food security.

The initial work will pave the way for partnerships, grant proposals and a larger study with randomized, controlled trials of interventions to see what can help and answer specific research questions. “You need some funding to get started on something bigger,” Mukherjee says.

Deforestation and disease

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Thomas Leffler

A Graduate Student Research Award will allow Thomas Leffler, MPH, a doctoral student in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, to attend the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria. Using land cover data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and information from USAID’s Demographic and Health Survey, he will look for associations between the loss of forests and children’s health. He’ll look specifically at dehydration, respiratory diseases, digestive-system diseases and malaria.

“Deforestation has been occurring at alarmingly high rates throughout the world, with profound ecological, biological, and geochemical impacts for affected ecosystems,” he says. “At the same time, humans increasingly inhabit the human-wildlife interface among deforested areas, creating novel biotic interactions, opportunities for infectious disease transmission, and changes in ecosystem dynamics.”

The initial work could lead to more field research, he says, and the potential to clearly identify deforestation as a cause of child illness.

The 2022 Global Health Institute Grants and Awards

Seed Grants

  • Real world efficacy of school-based HPV vaccination campaigns and bivalent HPV vaccination in rural Zimbabwe, P.I.: Megan Fitzpatrick, M.D., Department of Pathology, SMPH
  • Food insecurity and child health in India’s urban slums, P.I.: Priya Mukherjee, Ph.D., M.A., M.Sc., Agricultural and Applied Economics, CALS
  • Participatory systems modeling to improve food and nutrition security under climate change, P.I. Charles Nicholson, Ph.D., M.S., Agricultural and Applied Economics, CALS
  • Improving perioperative anesthesia care and training (IPACT) in Lusaka, Zambia, P.I.: Deborah Rusy, M.S., MBA, FASA, Anesthesiology, SMPH

Visiting Scholar Award

  •  P.I.: Mostafa Zamanian, Ph.D., Pathobiological Sciences, SVM; Visiting Scholar: Mónica Palma, M.D., Ph.D., Colombia/Wisconsin One-Health Consortium

 Graduate Student Research Awards

  • Deforestation-zoonoses nexus on the edges of Indonesian plantations, Aida Arosoaie, doctoral student, Anthropology, College of Letters & Science (L&S)
  • An experimental research: Does talking with chatbots reduce loneliness of young adults? Jinyoung Choi, M.S., doctoral student, Communication Arts, L&S
  • Health and conservation of chimpanzees through viral surveillance in sanctuaries across Africa, Emily Dunay, VMD, doctoral student, Pathobiological Sciences, SVM
  • Spatial-temporal associations between forest cover change and pediatric health indicators in selected sub-Saharan African countries, Thomas Leffler, MPH, doctoral student, Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
  • Where do metal contaminants go, and what do they do to plants? Kate Thompson, M.Sc., doctoral student, Forestry and Wildlife Ecology, CALS

 Henry Anderson III Graduate Student Award in Environmental and Occupational Public Health

  •  Climate justice perspectives and strategies implemented by public health nurses and community partners, Jessica LeClair, M.S., MPH, doctoral student, School of Nursing


By Ann Grauvogl/ May 24, 2022