Although Jennie Harris says she had an interest in global health as early as high school, it wasn’t until a few years after finishing her undergraduate studies that she decided she wanted to work in the field. In 2001, she spent several months on a community development project in Guyana. Thinking back on the experience, she says “I knew nothing about HIV at the time. I remember learning about how the migration of men between their villages and mining communities and the power dynamic between teenage girls and older men were facilitating the spread of HIV in Guyana and I was fascinated.”
Harris went on to complete an MPH at the University of Washington and in 2006 was awarded a one-year fellowship with HIVCorps, a program of the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ). An independent NGO affiliated with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (a new CUGH institutional member), CIDRZ develops short- and long-term solutions in the battle against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases in Africa.
Harris was placed with one of their new programs at that time: TB/HIV integration. “It was an exciting time to arrive in Zambia,” says Harris. We were in the midst of rapid scale-up of ART programs and there was suddenly a lot of interest in linking TB and HIV services due to the high prevalence of TB/HIV co-infection.” Within a few months, Harris knew she wanted to stay longer than her one-year fellowship and was ultimately offered a position as a program coordinator. In this position, Harris got to do a bit of everything including program planning, monitoring & evaluation, and budget management. In addition, she helped develop several study protocols and mentored medical students doing research projects at CIDRZ; these experiences made her realize that she wanted more training herself. Because Harris wanted to stay connected to her projects in Zambia, UAB seemed like a logical choice due to its affiliation with CIDRZ. She moved back the United States in 2009 to start her doctoral studies at UAB and has continued to work part-time for CIDRZ while in school.
In UAB’s Epidemiology program, Harris is now focused building her skills in study design and data analysis. “I’ve learned a ton since I’ve been here and am consistently impressed with how accessible and helpful the faculty are,” says Harris.
Harris envisions a future career that builds off the kind of work that CIDRZ is doing, in which research informs the delivery of services. “While the epidemiologist in me wants to design studies with rigorous and often resource-intensive data collection, the pragmatist in me wants to develop and implement sustainable programs that will be cost-effective and reach as many people as possible. So I’d like to work in an environment where I can do both” she says.
Internationally acknowledged as a leader in HIV/AIDS treatment and research, maternal-child health care and studies, and cervical cancer, malaria and tuberculosis practice, CIDRZ has remained rooted in local community health care while becoming a world-renowned resource for infectious disease research and program implementation.
Jennie can be contacted at email@example.com.