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The goal of the Western Heads East program is to establish probiotic yoghurt programs in highly underserviced areas of Sub-Saharan Africa with high HIV/AIDS infection rates. The first site was initiated in Mwanza, Tanzania and has become the regional headquarters of the program. WHE is currently working on establishing programs in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Malawi. Since the project began, over 56 interns and African partners have conducted research, examined health benefits, quality control, etc to continue improving the establishment. Over the next two years, WHE is expecting to establish over 20 kitchens, employ approximately 120 women and serve over 4000 people.

The probiotic yoghurt is based on the research of Dr. Gregor Reid, Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Surgery, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University. Probiotics are live microorganisms otherwise known as "good bacteria" that deliver health benefits to their host. Dr. Reid collaborated with Dr. Sharareh Hekmat of Western's Brescia University College and developed a probiotic yoghurt strain to address the HIV/AIDS symptoms in Africa by:

  • Alleviating a risk factor for HIV infection in women
  • Developing Lower mortality and morbidity rates from diarrhea in patients with AIDS
  • Building stronger immune systems
  • Treating urogenital infections & bacterial vaginosis

The initial mission began with the training of a local group of 12 women called "Tukwamunane" in the production of the yoghurt and setting up a kitchen. The Tukwamuane Women's Group" in Mwanza has become licensed as a Non-Governmental Organization and has become a hub in the community to provide lay counseling and school lunch programs, as well as producing the probiotic yoghurt. They have been joined by the Baraka and Orande Women's Groups as the main producers of the probiotic yoghurt in Kenya. They provide probiotic yoghurt free of charge for more than 214 people living with AIDS and are seeking subsidy to pay for the yoghurt for those who cannot afford to buy it. Donations have currently subsidized probiotic yoghurt for 1100 individuals by the end of December 2013.

The WHE internship program provides an exciting and challenging opportunity for students to assist in improving the HIV/AIDS crisis. The Chairperson of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) is enthusiastic about providing the interns with technical support to assess food and nutritional habits and in exploring the introduction of cow milk and yoghurt into local diet.

The goal of the program has been to send people who return to promote education about the AIDS pandemic in Africa and to help raise awareness and funds for the specific needs in Africa.

Our interns have developed relationships with communities in East Africa leading to:

  • Establishment of a health program based on cow milk and yoghurt production
  • Establishment of the groundwork for probiotics research
  • Promotion of awareness in Western University's community about the conditions in Africa and the impact of HIV/AIDS

This project holds promise and considerable benefits for all those involved, such as:

  • Improving the health and economic status in communities
  • Providing campus awareness of, and involvement in, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa
  • Developing ethical and civic responsibilities with students
  • Providing service-learning opportunities
  • Increasing globalization of Western activities
  • Cross-discipline collaboration
Western Heads East is Western's Community Response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa
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Last Modified on February 22, 2013 2:52 PM , by [DR]