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Work in Mali featured in Scientific American: 
Seeds of a Cure by Brendan Borrell, Scientific American (June 2014) 310, 64-69. 


Merlin Willcox


Clinical Researcher

My research focuses on global health, particularly primary health care in low-income countries. In such countries, maternal mortality is up to 100x greater than in the UK, and one in five children die before their fifth birthday. Primary health care has the potential to save most of these lives, if it is implemented according to the best evidence.

I am currently coordinating the Oxford contribution to two EU-funded collaborative projects, working in partnership with European and African Universities, especially in Mali, Uganda and South Africa.

The HURAPRIM project (Human Resources for Primary Care in Africa) aims to analyse the scope and causes of the deficit in human resources for primary health care in Africa, to design interventions to improve the situation and to implement and evaluate these. In particular I am helping to coordinate a confidential enquiry into maternal, perinatal and child deaths in Uganda and Mali. This is providing useful information on how the health system could be improved to save more lives. It is already having an impact because some recommendations can be implemented already at no cost. For example in Mbarara (Uganda) a new high-risk antenatal clinic has been started. In Finkolo (Mali) health workers have been trained to improve their quality of care for severely ill and malnourished children. We are currently planning a larger trial to test whether the “confidential enquiry” method is a cost-effective way of saving lives in low-income countries.

The Multidisciplinary University Traditional Health Initiative (MUTHI) aims to strengthen capacity for research on traditional herbal medicines in African universities. Herbal medicine is one of the most commonly used forms of primary health care in Africa. Several standardised herbal medicines have been proven to be safe and effective, and many more are waiting to be developed. I am involved in delivering training on clinical research to universities in South Africa, Uganda and Mali. Our vision is that more evidence-based herbal medicines will be developed by African researchers for African patients.

I continue to practice as a GP at Luther St Medical Centre, a health centre for homeless people in the centre of Oxford, where I have conducted research on community alcohol detoxification for people experiencing homelessness.

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