Dr. David J. Downs
Fuller Seminary has announced that one of its faculty members and one of its doctoral students are co-investigators on a winning Grand Challenges Explorations grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. David J. Downs, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Fuller Seminary, and Rev. Agrey Mwakisole, Fuller doctoral degree student who lives in Tanzania, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project called "From Obstacles to Opportunities for Male Circumcision in Tanzania."
Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. The project, led by Dr. Jennifer Downs of Weill Cornell Medical College together with Dr. David Downs, Rev. Mwakisole, and Dr. Samuel Kalluvya of Bugando Medical Centre in Tanzania, is one of over 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 12 grants announced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
To receive funding this team, along with other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 12 winners, demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, behavior change, and looking into animal and human health. Applications for the next round of funding will be accepted starting September 2014.
The project, entitled "From Obstacles to Opportunities for Male Circumcision in Tanzania," will work within Christian churches in northwest Tanzania to promote male circumcision, which has been demonstrated to reduce HIV acquisition.
"We hypothesize that by providing pastors and leaders of local churches with education about the health benefits of male circumcision and equipping them to lead their congregations in discussions of the topic, the uptake of male circumcision can be increased by 70 to 90 percent," said Dr. David Downs.
Rev. Agrey Mwakisole
"In a context in which male circumcision has the potential to prevent one new HIV infection for every 5 to 15 circumcisions performed, increasing the uptake of male circumcision in Tanzania alone has the potential to prevent several hundred thousand HIV infections."
Previous research on this topic by Dr. David Downs, Dr. Jennifer Downs, and Rev. Mwakisole, which was supported by a Collaborative Research Grant from the Association of Theological Schools, resulted in the development of a contextualized Swahili curriculum that will be utilized in this project. "Christian church attendees have largely perceived male circumcision as a Muslim practice and as a practice for sexually promiscuous persons," said Rev. Mwakisole. "However, our initiative emphasizes the leadership role pastors have in the community – to set an example and demonstrate their involvement, concern, and care for the health of their congregations."
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenges Explorations grants have been received by over 950 people in more than 55 countries. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.