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New Else Kröner Center Launched


Improving health care in the region around Mwanza (Tanzania): This is the goal of a newly established center at the University of Würzburg. The project is funded by the Else Kröner-Fresenius Foundation with EUR 2.5 million.

After the press conference on the establishment of the Else Kröner Center (from left): Matthias Frosch, Christian Schuchardt, Christa Kasang, Oliver Kurzai, Andreas Müller, Saskia Kreibich and Dr. Judith von Heusinger.
After the press conference on the establishment of the Else Kröner Center (from left): Matthias Frosch, Christian Schuchardt, Christa Kasang, Oliver Kurzai, Andreas Müller, Saskia Kreibich and Dr. Judith von Heusinger. (Image: Robert Emmerich / Universität Würzburg)

"Else Kröner Center for Advanced Medical & Medical Humanitarian Studies Würzburg – Mwanza/Tanzania": This is the official title of the new center established in Würzburg in early January 2020. Over the next years, the center is set to consolidate and expand medical and scientific activities of numerous institutions in Würzburg and Mwanza by taking a structured and sustainable approach.

Among others, the partner institutions are planning to conduct joint research projects, collaborate closely in clinical research and organise exchange programmes for master's students, junior doctors in specialist training as well as doctoral students. One focal area will be the establishment of a non-profit programme to fight schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasites which is widespread around Lake Victoria.

For this purpose, the Else Kröner-Fresenius Foundation (EKFS) will provide EUR 2.5 million over the next five years within the scope of a special call for proposals. The foundation provides funding to two such centers, the other being located at the University of Halle-Wittenberg. The Würzburg center was presented at a press conference in the senate hall of Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU).

Many reasons supporting the Würzburg proposal

The Würzburg project won the call for proposals, beating fierce competition of 78 applications in total. "There were many reasons in favour of Würzburg," says Dr. Judith von Heusinger, the head of the EKFS funding department for medical-humanitarian development cooperation. She attributes the success to the high quality of the long-term cooperation of the Würzburg partners.

The project is managed by the JMU Faculty of Medicine. Its cooperation partners in Würzburg are the Würzburg University Hospital, the Medical Mission Institute Würzburg and the German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association (DAHW). Partner organisations in Mwanza are the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences and the Bugando Medical Center.

Decades of previous experiences

The new center does not have to start from scratch. Rather, it can build on many years of experiences in intensive medical and scientific cooperation that has developed parallel to the twin town relationship between Würzburg and Mwanza in Tanzania since the 1960s. The center also benefits from the close contacts between the participating partner institutions that were established during this time.

Professor Matthias Frosch, the Dean of the JMU Faculty of Medicine, says that the long-term cooperation between the participating institutions is marked by trust and confidence. He also mentions the medical student exchange programme which is going very well: Since 2008, around 45 students from Mwanza have completed part of their clinical training in Würzburg. Just as many JMU students have benefited from their stay in Mwanza in return.

Activities are strategically bundled

The establishment of the "Else Kröner Center for Advanced Medical & Medical Humanitarian Studies Würzburg – Mwanza/Tanzania" will now bundle the different activities in a strategic approach to optimally harness the synergies between the various initiatives.

This is how Oliver Kurzai, JMU Professor of Hygiene and Microbiology and scientific coordinator of the new center, explains its mission. He emphasises that the main purpose is to educate and train medical specialists and students, to develop a joint study programme in public health, to improve clinical care for the population in hospitals, provide better health care and organise public health campaigns at the community level around Lake Victoria.

Kurzai says that one reason he is so pleased with the unique new center is that there haven't been any funding opportunities for projects of this kind in Germany so far.

A programme to fight neglected tropical diseases

Some 16 million people live in the region around Mwanza on the shore of Lake Victoria – many of them in remote villages and on inaccessible islands off Mwanza. The expansion of the health care system and the local infrastructure has not kept pace with the rapid population growth. In the absence of sanitation facilities, basic infrastructure and health services, many of the local population suffer from poverty-associated neglected tropical diseases (NTD).

For example, more than 70 percent are infected with schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms which is transmitted through contact with contaminated freshwater. The disease causes damage to the intestines, liver and spleen and is lethal in the worst case. Together all project partners have implemented a community-based, multidisciplinary programme to combat schistosomiasis and to improve the supply of medicines. Dr. Christa Kasang from the DAHW and Dr. Andreas Müller from the Medical Mission Institute gave details on the situation during a press conference.

But there are other challenges the Else Kröner Center intends to tackle besides fighting schistosomiasis. In addition to enhancing academic relations and hospital health services, the center aims to integrate health programmes from which the local population benefits directly. For example, efforts will be stepped up to diagnose and treat other NTDs, such as glaucoma. More than 300 health workers will be trained for this purpose who will inform the local population about NTDs during village campaigns.

Improving training of medical professionals

Other focal activities will be to improve the quality of training of young academic and clinical professionals as well as education and training of medical specialists in various disciplines. At least ten medical students will participate in an exchange programme between the University of Würzburg and the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences for several weeks. Moreover, a research programme will be set up which is geared to training PhD students in order to further improve medical care in Mwanza. And finally, employees of the hospitals in Mwanza and Würzburg will be instructed in the use of medical equipment.

Else Kröner-Fresenius Foundation (EKFS) – Funding research. Helping people.

The non-profit Else Kröner-Fresenius-Foundation is dedicated to promoting medical research and supporting medical-humanitarian projects. The foundation was established by entrepreneur Else Kröner in 1983 and was named as the sole beneficiary of her estate upon her death. The EKFS derives almost all of its income from dividends of the Fresenius healthcare group of which it is the majority shareholder. The foundation has funded around 1,930 projects to date. It is one of the largest foundations in Germany that supports medicine with an annual funding volume of currently over EUR 50 million.

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By Gunnar Bartsch / Robert Emmerich