ANPA Member Receives $1 Million NIH and HRSA Grants to Study Mother to Child HIV Transmission

Echezona E. Ezeanolue, MD, FAAP, FIDSA

ANPA Member and Chair of the Education Committee, Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue, has received two US government research grants totaling $1 million, to study mother to child HIV transmission and aspects of primary care deliver to patients living with HIV/AIDS.

The first, a highly coveted R01 grant from National Institute of Health/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development/National Institute of Mental Health, titled “Comparative effectiveness of congregation and clinic based approaches to prevention of mother to child HIV transmission,” partners with 40 churches and clinics in Nigeria to compare effectiveness and outcomes of different approaches to HIV testing. The second award is from the Human Resources and Services Administration, which supports a comprehensive, integrated primary medical care to women, infants, children and youth living with HIV/AIDS.  A statement from the University of Nevada explained that this award “will support the only comprehensive pediatric HIV program in Southern Nevada and allow the medical school’s departments of pediatrics and obstetrics to work collaboratively with the Southern Nevada Health Department, University Medical Center (UMC), Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN), and the counseling center to develop an integrated maternal-child HIV program that will sustain the success we have made in the last five year.”

Dr. Ezeanolue is a graduate of the University of Nigeria College of Medicine, and began his graduate medical education at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu. He completed a pediatric residency at Howard University in Washington, DC. Subsequently he did a fellowship training in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, where he also completed a Master’s degree in public health with an emphasis on disease epidemiology and Health Services Research. He is board-certified in pediatrics and infectious diseases, and is Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).

Dr. Ezeanolue joined the faculty of the University of Nevada School of Medicine (UNSOM) in Las Vegas in 2005, where he is currently an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and the Director of Pediatric Research. He is the founder of the pediatric HIV service in Southern Nevada and, with community partners, established a comprehensive maternal-child HIV program that seeks to eliminate perinatal HIV transmission by integrating the care of HIV infected pregnant women and their exposed/infected children. His ground-breaking work in infectious diseases has received wide recognition. Dr. Ezeanolue has been named to the prestigious list of Top Doctors in America in Pediatric Infectious Diseases by the US News and World Report. In 2008, he received the AAP Special Achievement Award for his contributions in the area of childhood immunization. Dr. Ezeanolue has been honored in Nevada as Public Health Leader of the Year (2007), Carmel Scholar by the American Federation for Medical Research(2007), Nevada Healthcare Hero from Nevada Business Journal (2008), Nevada Immunization Champion (2008), Outstanding Research Mentor (2009), and AAP Local Heroes Award (2010). Dr. Ezeanolue also serves as an editor of PREP: ID, an AAP Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program for infectious disease specialists.

Dr. Ezeanolue was among six health professionals selected by The Institute of Medicine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as the 2010-2011 RWJF Health Policy Fellows.  He spent a full year in Washington DC as a Health Policy Fellow year working in the office of HHS Secretary, Katherine Sebelius, with key responsibilities for health legislation and programs.

To beat the stiff competition for the NIH grant, Dr. Ezeanolue had to defy the odds that are firmly stacked against applicants with his background. In fact, a recent study in the journal Science, showed that black investigators — a group composed of African-Americans and scientists from other nations who identify as black — are about 10 percentage points less likely than their white peers to win these grants. Even more remarkable is that Dr. Ezeanolue chose Nigeria as the site for his study, joining a tiny minority of studies conducted outside the US that are funded by the NIH.

The ANPA Blog asked Dr. Ezeanolue what this award and his research would mean for the way we test HIV, particularly in his home country, Nigeria. According to him, “If successful, it will provide an adjunct delivery model that removes institutional barrier to HIV testing. Only 35% of pregnant women in Nigeria deliver in a hospital while majority of the programs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission are located in hospitals. Almost every community in Nigeria has a worship center (church, mosque, etc.) and these will function in improving access to testing just like Walgreen and Wal-Mart does in making flu shot easily available to communities in the USA. The proposed approach could reduce barriers to screening including knowledge, access, cost and stigma.”

On the larger implication of his work for Nigeria/Africa, Dr. Ezeanolue told The ANPA Blog, “Globally, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) accounts for 76% of all women living with HIV and an estimated 90% of the 3.4 million children living with HIV. Majority of new HIV infections for the next generation occurs in Africa. In 2010, 75, 000 children were estimated to have acquired HIV from their mother. When pregnant women are identified early and available interventions (antiretroviral therapy, also available in Nigeria through PEPFAR programs) implemented, risk of transmission is less than 1%. In fact, it has been zero since 2007 when  I led the implementation of our program in Las Vegas.”

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