Jamaican-Born Doctor receives grant to mentor clinicians in the Caribbean

WASHINGTON, DC – Dr. Goulda A. Downer, a Jamaican-born top official at Howard University’s College of Medicine in Washington, DC, was recently awarded a US$400,000 Ford Foundation grant, to provide mentoring opportunities to Caribbean clinicians who are interested in honing their skills in HIV diagnosis, treatment, care, and support.

The Principal Investigator and Project Director for the National Minority AIDS Education and Training Centre (NMAETC) in the College of Medicine at Howard University, Downer will use the award on a project to improve the clinical outcomes of Caribbean People Living with HIV/AIDS. The aim is to engage Caribbean clinicians in capacity building preceptorships that will increase interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, and enhance clinical skills in targeting unmet needs for HIV care, and providing quality care to patients.

Dr. Goulda A. Downer

Preceptorships are structured, direct patient encounters in a clinical setting where expert clinicians provide training, support, and guidance to students (preceptees) during clinical placements. Preceptors will also provide follow-up support to recently trained preceptees. The goals of the preceptorships are to change approaches to clinical decision-making and problem-solving. Using adult learning techniques, Dr. Downer and her faculty will instruct preceptees in utilising the latest science in HIV treatment and management to enhance their clinical skills.

This approach to preceptorship has been identified as the gold standard for HIV care, particularly in contexts where patients and providers do not share the same cultural background where, in the Caribbean, culture encompasses race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, gender, spiritual beliefs, and practices.

Provider attitudes will also be addressed because provider stigma is one of the most commonly cited reasons for lack of access to HIV care in the Caribbean.

“Of course Jamaica is included in this,” Dr. Downer said when asked which countries were selected. Clinicians will be selected from among the Caribbean countries with the highest HIV prevalence rates, namely Barbados, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Preceptorships will be open to the following groups of practitioners: physicians, registered nurses, pharmacists, dentists, nutritionists/dieticians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants. “And given that in many Caribbean countries traditional healers and social workers are often the first to see patients infected with HIV, representatives of these disciplines may also participate in the proposed programme,” Dr. Downer continued. The programmeis fully funded, meaning that selected participants will pay nothing and, in fact, will receive a small stipend.

Dr. Downer stressed that the importance of this training cannot be overstated. By its sheer population size and with increased testing, Asia has now emerged as the region with the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, behind Sub-Saharan Africa. This means the financial and other resources once directed to the previously second-placed Caribbean region, will soon no longer be available. “We must get a handle on this and ramp up our treatment and prevention programmes,” she said.

As a nutrition expert Dr. Downer has served in a variety of academic, Government and industry positions, including with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Advisory Committee, Office of Consumer Affairs, and also as Chair of the Board of Nutrition and Dietetics, Department of Health, Health Regulation Administration, in Washington, D.C.
She has also served as Chairperson of the Washington, D.C. Statewide Health Coordinating Council; Advisory Member, U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Division of Service Industry, Consumer Education Committee on Healthy Weight Management. She has also been a regional finalist in the White House Fellowship Programme. As Assistant Professor and Principal Investigator and Project Director for the NMAETC, Dr. Downer provides leadership to a multi-million dollar national HIV/AIDS training programme aimed at reducing health disparities among ethnic and racial minorities nationwide. She also provides expertise in HIV food security and nutrition for this programme.

She founded METROPLEX Health and Nutrition Services, Inc. in 1994 and is the President and Chief Executive Officer. METROPLEX provides leadership and direction for public health and wellness practice in the local, regional, national, and international arenas. Dr. Downer continues as Adjunct Nutrition Faculty in the School of Public Health and Health Services, Exercise Science Programme, at the George Washington University in Washington DC. She also formerly served as Assistant Clinical Professor/Director, Public Health Nutrition Services Department of Pediatrics, Child Development Centre Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, D.C. from 1990 to1996.

She also serves as expert nutrition consultant with United States Department of Justice, as well as Senior Nutrition and Food Security and HIV/AIDS Consultant with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where she conducts food, nutrition and agriculture programme audits; food crisis impact analysis; and food/nutrition sustainability, then develops in-country programme plans to address these issues during visits (South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda, Nigeria).

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