Dr Tafireyi Marukutira - Botswana
Mentoring organization: Astellas Pharmaceuticals
As an asthmatic child, Tafireyi Marukutira came into contact with the medical establishment early and often. “Between the age of 6 and about 16, I was in and out of the hospital all the time,” he says. “I was meeting so many doctors and nurses, and I think that’s one of the main things that initially drew me to the field. I wanted to be like them and I wanted to help myself and those who were asthmatic.”
A native of Midlands, Zimbabwe, Marukutira earned his medical degree just as the country’s economy began to unravel, hemorrhaging jobs and plunging millions into poverty. By 2002, fuel shortages, soaring inflation, and the specter of famine had driven tens of thousands of Zimbabweans to flee, resulting in an exodus of talent to neighboring countries.
Marukutira, for one, found his way to Botswana. After several posts in the Ministry of Health, he joined the newly opened Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence, part of the Baylor International Pediatric AIDs Initiative, in Gaborone, and, while there, went on to pursue dual masters degrees in public health and management of HIV/AIDS.
"The training in good clinical practice, project management, research design, writing manuscripts and running a clinical trial – those are the skills I’m using today as principal investigator on one of our main research projects.”
In the case of Marukutira, Zimbabwe’s loss was Botswana’s gain. And for the young scientist himself, emigrating to the latter was a crucial step along a career path that would take him from the Midlands to the Midwest of the United States for a twelve-month TDR Clinical R&D Career Development Fellowship in the Chicago offices of Astellas Pharmaceuticals where he was commonly known as Tafi.
“I learned so much from my time at Astellas,” Marukutira recalls, describing his work in the company’s anti-infective department, where he was able to observe all phases of a compound’s clinical development. “The training in good clinical practice, project management, research design, writing manuscripts and running a clinical trial – those are the skills I’m using today as principal investigator on one of our main research projects.”
Indeed in addition to advancing his own career, the fellowship has allowed Marukutira to have a meaningful impact on his home institution. “At the moment, we have two proposals out for research projects, and this would not have been possible without the expertise I now have,” he says. “That expertise has enhanced our institutional profile, putting us in a position to apply for these grants that we know we can now get.”
Gabriel Anabwani, Executive Director of Botswana Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence and Marukutira’s mentor, echoes that belief. “We feel the fellowship has had a very positive impact,” he says, explaining that it’s allowed Marukutira to work at a higher level than he had been before. “He’s currently working on a number of projects,” says Anabwani, “including as a principle investigator on a CDC-funded study of adherence to HIV medicines in adolescents in Botswana. What we’re now trying to do is get him into larger research grants – and we’re confident we can do that.”
So too is Marukutira, who received another honour in 2012, the International AIDS Society (IAS)/ CCABA (Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS) Prize for Excellence in Research Related to the Needs of Children Affected by AIDS, for an abstract he presented at the AIDS Conference in Washington, DC – part of a study entitled “The voice of the HIV infected and affected school-age children in Botswana,” on which his mentor, Anabwani, was principle investigator.
This prize is awarded to an investigator whose abstract demonstrates excellence in research that is likely to lead to improved services for children affected by HIV and AIDS.