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UNC-Chapel Hill center wins $180 million federal grant

CHAPEL HILL A consortium led by UNC-Chapel Hill has won a $180 million federal grunt to continue its nearly two-decade effort to improve the collection and use of public health data in dozens of countries.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt announced the award Tuesday afternoon at a news conference. The five-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development is the second-largest in the university’s history, topped only by the previous round of funding – just $1 million more – for the same project, which is called Monitoring and Evaluation to Assess and Use Results (MEASURE Evaluation).

The program helps developing countries better monitor epidemics and use data to make decisions about disease control. It has helped in the battles against a host of public health problems, including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Folt described it as USAID’s flagship research project for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of government spending on global health, population and nutrition. It uses “Big Data,” she said, to improve public health in 80 countries, repeating the number of countries to underline it.

“I emphasize that, because that’s a very big bite at tackling what are some of the world’s most important and pressing issues,” she said.

The project has created 100 local jobs directly, Folt said, and spun off companies such as FHI 360, which employes several hundred people in its Durham headquarters and thousands more around the world.

James C. Thomas, director of the project and an associate professor of epidemiology at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said USAID had shown vision in enacting MEASURE Evaluation so that countries could make vital decisions about where to spend public health funds by using data rather than hunches.

Barbara Entwisle, now vice chancellor for research, is a former director of population center and oversaw the the program in its early years. It helps make the university a global leader, she said.

“What’s important here is, that not only are we applying the tool kit, we are inventing the tool kit,” she said.

An example, she said, was a methodology developed at UNC for identifying the likely locations of key HIV transmission networks – places where large numbers of people meet new sexual partners – and assessing what prevention programs are likely to fit and making policy recommendations to the pertinent government.

It has now been used in more than a dozen countries on three continents and in the Caribbean.

The latest round of funding for the program could grow to more than $300 million with related awards from local USAID offices in specific countries.

All told, the project has attracted nearly $600 million in federal funding since it began in 1997, and is working in about 30 countries at any given time.

The Carolina Population Center at UNC leads the six-member consortium, which also includes Tulane University and four consulting and international development companies.

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