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Building global health capacity with the Gilead Fellowship program

At Berkeley Public Health, the first cohort of Gilead Fellows developed tools and built networks to alleviate global health burdens

For two years in rural northwest Cameroon, Dr. Bryan Tegomoh spent each day treating patients for a list of infectious diseases, including hepatitis B, malaria, and infections associated with HIV. “Being in a rural community in a vulnerable population has many challenges,” he said. “My perspective began to change.” 

Tegomoh grew up in Cameroon’s capital city of Yaounde, where he also trained to become a physician. “Clinical medicine is a wonderful thing, but you can have only one patient at a time,” he said. “In the rural hospital, I began to think more about population health. What can we do to impact whole populations from a public health perspective? How can we develop tools to help many more people?”

He turned his sights to the field of public health. “I began to think more about how I can get more training to help more people,” he said. “I wanted to get as many tools in my toolkit as possible.” 

Tegomoh decided he wanted to earn a degree in public health, so he applied for the Gilead Fellowship for the Advancement of Global Public Health at Berkeley Public Health.

In 2018, Berkeley Public Health launched an initiative in partnership with Bay Area biotechnology company Gilead Sciences, Inc., to expand global public health education by supporting five international fellows from low- to middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The fellowship offered these fellows the opportunity to earn a Master’s in Public Health in epidemiology or infectious diseases and vaccinology from UC Berkeley in 18 months. During this time, fellows also received mentorship from a faculty advisor and completed an internship of their choosing, while they conducted research to address critical global health issues.

The goal of the fellowship, according to Dr. Betty Chiang, vice president of public health and medical affairs at Gilead Sciences, Inc., was to build public health capacity in developing countries. “The five fellows are the future of their countries’ healthcare systems,” said Chiang. “We need to do more to create leaders like that, and they will in turn create something amazing in their countries.”

In the spring of 2019, Tegomoh became one of the five students to make up the first cohort of Gilead Fellows. On his way to earning an MPH in infectious diseases and vaccinology, he has studied with Lee Riley, professor and chair of the infectious diseases and vaccinology division at Berkeley Public Health, and has continued to research parasitic malaria from a population health perspective. Research has shown that 40 percent of Cameroonians have at least one episode of malaria each year. Tegomoh is committed to alleviating this public health burden.

The other four fellows are similarly dedicated to researching the public health issues faced by their respective countries. 

When he entered the program, Dr. Leando Mendes had eight years of experience working in hospital epidemiology, infection control, and direct patient-care at a public center for viral hepatitis and HIV in his home country of Brazil. He holds a PhD in virology, but saw the opportunity at UC Berkeley as a chance to put his work in Brazil into a global perspective.

José Victor Zambrana worked as an assistant researcher at the Sustainable Sciences Institute in Managua, Nicaragua, when he joined as a fellow. The Sustainable Sciences Institute is a capacity-building research lab founded by Berkeley Public Health’s Eva Harris. The Gilead Fellowship gave Zambrana an opportunity to work with Harris and advance his education in diagnostic methods for diseases like Zika and dengue. After completing his MPH degree at Berkeley, Jose Victor Zambrana has continued his training as an independent researcher in Berkeley’s Infectious Diseases and Immunity PhD Program.

After graduating from Makerere University School of Medicine in Kampala, Uganda, Dr. Daphine Kaana Namara treated an estimated 3,000 patients annually with diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. Thanks to her Gilead Fellowship, Namara received the NIH Global Health Equity Scholars (GHES) award, which provides one year of funding for continued research on HIV/TB co-infection prevention and treatment in Uganda.

Finally, Dr. Tinkhani Mbichila worked as a physician in rural Malawi before he decided to pivot to the research side of HIV and hepatitis prevention. Similar to Tegomoh, Mbichila worked as a chief medical officer in rural hospitals and saw firsthand the burden of infectious diseases. “My experience at district hospitals made me understand that the huge burden of problems we were seeing with infectious diseases could be managed through public health interventions,” said Mbichila. “Someone has to be at the bedside to treat patients, but I was prompted to get into a research role.”

For the first six months of the pilot program, the inaugural cohort of fellows attended their core breadth courses online from their home country, and then spent a year in residence on the Berkeley campus. In May 2020, the Gilead fellows completed their MPH coursework and embarked upon a two-month global health internship.

At Berkeley Public Health, Mbichila and the other fellows were able to make connections with other researchers connected to their areas of interest. For instance, Mbichila even networked with researchers at other universities in the UC system, including researchers at UCSF who have weighed in on the research he has conducted with Dr. Art Reingold on the incidence of hepatitis B among blood donors in Malawi.

“Being here has been an opportunity to learn as much as I can so that when I go home, I am more equipped and trained to be able to do the kind of research that I want to do,” said Mbichila before he left UC Berkeley.

The Gilead Fellowship is a unique public-private partnership and shows a commitment from both Berkeley Public Health and Gilead Sciences, Inc. to building local-global collaborations and expanding public health expertise to global scholars.

For Tegomoh, the Gilead Fellowship gave him the network and tools to become the kind of health professional needed in his home country of Cameroon and around the world. “I have met some of the most extraordinary professors, and I’ve been amazed at the level of intellectual energy here,” he said. “I’m grateful to Gilead for this opportunity to train at this institution, and then be able to go back and give back.”