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USF partners with Haiti to promote AIDS research


USF researchers are pairing up with Université d’Etat d’Haiti (UEH) to aid them in the hopes of establishing their own Office for Research and Innovation to further their research dedicated to HIV/AIDS.

Celia Lescano, a research associate professor in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, had been working with other colleges at USF to establish connections and train faculty in conducting research at other Florida universities, when she received the grant to expand her program into Haiti.

“The grant from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development provided us with $2.04 million to help provide resources to the state university of Haiti to enhance the infrastructure so that faculty and scholars at the university can conduct HIV-prevention research themselves,” Lescano said.

The large portion of the grant from the NICHD pays for travel expenses and for the resources purchased by USF to help Haiti. However, the majority of the grant is being used to pay for the technological resources such as computers, laptops, printers and copiers, which can be used by UEH, Lescano said.

The end goal of this program is to help UEH establish a way of sustaining its own academic research, by having the proper technological equipment, adequate facilities and trained personnel.

USF mentors traveled to Haiti in the winter to train the faculty and scholars there, and in the summer time, scholars from UEH will come to USF to receive training here, she said.

However, with travel being expensive, members from both institutes are finding new ways to meet, such as via Skype. Even then, power outages, political demonstrations and loss of Internet are problems that are being faced.

Before the trip to Haiti, Lescano reached out to Guitele Rahill, an assistant professor of social work at the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, in an effort to bring her in on the project.

“It became the perfect symbiotic relationship,” Lescano said. “Rahill had the knowledge and expertise of Haiti with a desire to help. I had the HIV research and training and grant-writing expertise necessary for the grant.”

Haiti was chosen as the country to aid because it fit into the criteria set by the NICHD, and because it had seen development hindered by the earthquake in January 2010.

“In my past research and service trips to Haiti, I met with community leaders and professors who kept saying how much they appreciate international support, but at the same time, knew they were capable of doing the work themselves,” Rahill, who is of Haitian descent, said.

The greatest obstacle that developing countries face, Rahill said, is getting the resources necessary for conducting research.

“What we are doing is providing long-term sustainability,” Rahill said. “This way, they can have the resources that are needed even after we are gone.”

“We want them to have the means necessary to conduct research on HIV prevention, care and treatment,” Lescano said. “One of the ways this can be achieved is by helping them build their own office of research and innovation and institutional-review board.”

This new way of helping out developing nations, Rahill said, is a step forward in not only providing aid to the countries, but also ensuring they are able to establish ways to progress in the absence of foreign aid.