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Oveta Fuller 
A. Oveta Fuller

Bringing Faith and Science Together to Fight HIV in Africa

Michigan Medicine 1/30/19

An enterprising science-based education program enlists clergy to help spread the word about HIV prevention and treatment.

While most biomedical researchers want to make discoveries that will improve health for humankind, their intense, lab-based work — replete with cells, molecules and microscopes — can feel somewhat detached from the people who are affected by the diseases and conditions they are studying.

A group of U-M researchers who are dedicated to bridging this divide recently published a paper in the journal Global Public Health detailing a simple, yet effective program designed to bring scientific knowledge to the people.

The program is the brainchild of A. Oveta Fuller, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and immunology and senior author on the paper. Fuller spent 20 years as a self-described “hardcore virologist lab scientist” before turning to community engagement.

While on sabbatical in 2006, Fuller, a member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, was invited by representatives of the global church to assist with addressing HIV/AIDS in several African countries, including Botswana, South Africa and Zambia.

“I was asked to do these things and the more I did them, the more I realized no matter how much we discover, if it doesn’t get to the people in a way they can use it, it’s not having its full impact,” she says.

In Zambia, in southern Africa, she worked with AME bishops as the highest official on an approach designed to move science discoveries into community implementation. Zambia was hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, with an almost 15 percent prevalence rate in 2006.

Their request: help church clergy to understand the science behind HIV and AIDS and how to counter the high AIDS impacts in their communities.

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