For the 2019-2020 year, VCU welcomes twelve fellows from Albania, Bahrain, Bhutan, Ghana, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Tanzania, Turkey, Vietnam.
Dr. Mazen Ali
Hamad Town, Bahrain
Dr. Mazen Ali, from Hamad Town, Bahrain, received his medical degree in 2002 from King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia. After his graduation, he joined a residency program in psychiatry and obtained a specialty degree in psychiatry in 2007. He also completed a two-year fellowship in mood disorders at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Since 2013, Dr. Ali has been a consultant adult psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Hospital of Bahrain. His responsibilities include treating common psychiatric disorders both in the acute inpatient wards as well as outpatient clinics. He is also actively involved in conducting research on such topics as metabolic syndrome among psychiatric patients, psychiatry and religion, and the prevalence of different psychiatric disorders in Bahrain. In addition to working at the Psychiatric Hospital of Bahrain, Dr. Ali is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Arabian Gulf University, where he is involved in teaching medical students as well as psychiatry residents. During his fellowship, Dr. Ali plans to enhance his knowledge of different treatment modalities for substance use disorders. He is also interested in developing policies to support the development and operation of an effective and efficient national program for substance abuse treatment. Finally, Dr. Ali wants to develop his skills in conducting substance abuse research and to collaborate with his colleagues at VCU to improve Bahrain’s substance abuse services.
Dr. Rabia Bilici
Rabia Bilici, from İstanbul, Turkey, received a bachelor’s degree in medicine in 1999 from Istanbul University, İstanbul Medical Faculty. After graduating, she completed her psychiatric residency between 2002-2007. In 2012, she founded the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Research, Treatment and Education Center at Erenköy Mental Health and Neurological Diseases Research and Training Hospital. In 2017, she began working as an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Health Sciences. She is the founding director of a doctoral program as the head of the Addiction and Fight against Addiction Department. Previously, Dr. Bilici worked as the drug addiction plan coordinator for the Republic of Turkey’s Ministry of Health. She is also the founder of the first outpatient rehabilitation center for addicted adults in Turkey. There she established a mother-baby unit for addicted women. Currently, she is a chief physician at Erenkoy Mental Health Hospital. Dr. Bilici brings experience working on many projects with the World Health Organization and is a member of the Green Crescent Science Board. During her fellowship, she plans to create a doctorate program for healthcare professionals in cooperation with Virginia Commonwealth University. She is also interested in creating a treatment and rehabilitation program for imprisoned people due to drug-related crimes.
Dr. Bawo James
Benin City, Nigeria
Dr. Bawo James, is from Benin City, Nigeria. He earned his degree in medicine and surgery in 2002 from the University of Benin. He completed his post-graduate training with fellowships in psychiatry from the National Postgraduate Medical College and the West African College of Physicians in 2009. He holds master’s degrees in epidemiology from the University of London and business administration from the University of Nicosia, Cyprus. Since 2010, he has worked as an addiction psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Benin City, where he heads the Drug Abuse Treatment Education and Research (DATER) Unit. His role includes clinical care, program oversight, training, and research. Dr. James is a certified master trainer for TREATNET, a national trainer for the International Society of Substance Use Professional’s (ISSUP) Universal Treatment Curriculum, and an executive of ISSUP, Nigeria Chapter. During his fellowship, he hopes to further develop his skills in grantsmanship and research, as well as his knowledge of telehealth for addiction treatment. He also wants to develop the ability to train staff on motivational interviewing as well as screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment in Nigeria in order to reduce the treatment gap for persons with mild to moderate substance use disorders.
Ms. Lucy Kiarie
Ms. Lucy Kiarie, from Nairobi, Kenya, earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in environmental studies and community development in 2008 and 2013, respectively, from Kenyatta University, Kenya. She has over five years' experience in research, policy, and advocacy. Her work at the national, county, and community levels has spanned the gamut from technical support to conducting root cause analyses on bottlenecks affecting immunization coverage. She has worked with policy makers to advocate for greater funding for youth-friendly services in Nairobi County. Her efforts led to additional funding for reproductive health and opened the door for future advocacy work. Ms. Kiarie also campaigned for sustainable immunization financing by linking the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance, and Parliament agendas. Her collaboration with these institutions in the budget-making process enabled them to make better-informed decisions. Ms. Kiarie has experience directing the selection of civil society organizations in Kenya, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire to petition their respective governments to increase their support for routine immunizations. During her fellowship, Ms. Kiarie plans to enhance her leadership skills by focusing on community-based participatory research strategies, studying policy development at the state and local levels, learning more about project planning and evaluation, and engaging in public speaking.
Ms. Dede Kwadjo
Ms. Dede Kwadjo, from Accra, Ghana, received a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food science in 2005 and a master’s degree in dietetics in 2009 from the University of Ghana. Since 2011 she has worked for the Ministry of Health as a dietitian at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Ms. Kwadjo is currently the principal and lead dietitian at the National Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and Burns Centre. Her responsibilities include medical nutrition therapy for patients, community health advocacy, and serving as a preceptor for training students and health care personnel about burns and cleft care both within and outside her country. In recent years, Ms. Kwadjo developed policies and protocols for training and research related to burns and cleft care. She initiated and continues to run a nutrition program for patients with cleft conditions/defects under Operation Smile Ghana and currently is a member of their Medical Advisory Council. In addition to Operation Smile, she has collaborated with organizations such as Interburns and ReSurge Africa. During her fellowship, Ms. Kwadjo seeks to broaden her knowledge in healthcare policies and managerial strategies related to successful public health intervention outcomes. She aims to enhance her skills in leadership, communication, research, and project management.
Ms. Meksi Andia
Ms. Andia Meksi, from Tirana, Albania, received her bachelor's degree in clinical psychology and master's degree in counseling psychology in 2005 and 2013, respectively, from Tirana University. After graduating, she worked as a forensic psychiatric facility psychologist and later as a methadone treatment center counselor. In 2011, Ms. Meksi joined the World Health Organization as a project manager in the Albania Office. During her tenure, she organized trainings for health professionals at the national, regional, and local levels and facilitated drug policy development meetings. For the past six years, Ms. Meksi has worked as a mental health specialist at the Department of Health Promotion, Institute for Public Health and as a drug specialist for the National Data System Office on Drugs. Ms. Meksi is a certified national drug treatment trainer with an International Certified Addiction Professional I certificate and a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals’ Drug Demand Reduction Program. She is a seasoned cognitive-behavioral therapist and is receiving training to lead groups in psychoanalytic therapy. During her fellowship, Ms. Meksi plans to improve her addiction research skills, particularly around data information systems. She also would like to enhance her drug-related project management and public health policy evaluation skills.
Dr. Innocent Mwombeki
Innocent Mwombeki, from Dodoma, Tanzania, received a doctor of medicine degree in 2009 from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar es Salaam. After finishing his internship, he began working as a medical officer for the Mirembe Mental Health Referral Hospital in Dodoma. In 2014, he was appointed the head of addiction services there after completing a master of medicine degree in psychiatry and mental health from Muhimbili University. In 2020 he earned a master’s degree in public health from Hebrew University in Israel. Currently, Dr. Mwombeki is the head of training and research at Mirembe Hospital. Over the years, he has been actively involved in developing national treatment guidelines and the facilitation of training programs for mental health and substance use disorders. He works in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, universities, and various NGOs in Tanzania. During his fellowship, Dr. Mwombeki plans to improve his clinical, research, and public health skills. He plans to develop a research project that will result in an evidence-based clinical care model for people with substance use disorders. He has an interest in gaining the competencies needed to establish trauma-informed addiction services in methadone clinics in Tanzania.
Mr. Harpreet Singh Sidhu
Mr. Harpreet Singh Sidhu is from Chandigarh, India. He completed an LL.B from Delhi University, an LL.M from the London School of Economics, an MPhil (criminology) from Cambridge, and an MA (international conflict studies) from Kings College London. Currently, he is an additional director general of police in the State of Punjab, India, where he also heads the Special Task Force (STF) against drugs. Through the STF, Mr. Sidhu has changed the previous “policing only” approach to drug control to a comprehensive strategy by designing an integrated enforcement-treatment-prevention model that includes robust treatment and prevention programs. This strategy is referred to as the Comprehensive Action against Drug Abuse. Consequently, in Punjab there are currently more than 592,000 people in treatment for a substance use disorder, 617,000 volunteers who have registered as drug abuse prevention officers in local communities, and approximately 3.7 million students participating in prevention programs. During his fellowship, Mr. Sidhu intends to increase his knowledge of different strategies for the prevention of drug abuse, including school-based prevention and community mobilization programs, and he also wants to learn about peer support programs as an adjunct to formal treatment for substance use disorders. He intends to use the knowledge and skills he acquires to improve programs for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse in India.
Dr. Thein Han
Dr. Thein Han, from Myanmar, received a bachelor's degree in medicine in 2003 from the University of Medicine Yangon. In 2008, he joined the Asian Harm Reduction Network (AHRN), providing comprehensive harm reduction services as a project manager. After a promotion in 2017 to a program coordinator for the AHRN head office, Dr. Thein provided technical and programmatic support for a methadone maintenance therapy program in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. In 2016, he earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Aldergate College, Philippines. A year later, he received a diploma in research studies from Yangon Institute of Economics and also holds an online certificate on addiction studies from Mount Royal University, Canada. He is currently working as a public health analyst for the Access to Health Fund promoting prison health and harm reduction among people who inject drugs, with responsibilities that include grant management and technical support. He has collaborated on policy reform with UNAIDS, UNODC, and the WHO on HIV programs. During his fellowship, Dr. Thein Han would like to share his experiences working with HIV prevention, but also enhance his leadership and networking skills, and learn about community-based models of prevention, education, and treatment with a specific focus on adolescents and on stimulant abuse.
Dr. Sonam Tobgay
Sonam Tobgay, from Bhutan, earned his medical (MBBS) and psychiatry (MD) degrees from the Armed Forces Medical College in Pune, India in 2004 and 2014, respectively. He became the first psychiatrist in the military in Bhutan. Currently, he is the head of the Psychiatry Department at the military hospital in Thimphu with the rank of Major in the Army, with sixteen years of experience providing clinical care. In 2015, Dr. Tobgay joined the Bhutanese national team in developing the Bhutan Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan for 2015-2023. During this time, he was instrumental in introducing buprenorphine substitution therapy to the country. In 2016 Dr. Tobgay served on a multi-sectoral task force conducting nationwide advocacy campaigns on mental health and substance use awareness for high school students. In 2017, he was a participant in a committee between parliamentarians and the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority to amend the 2015 Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act of Bhutan. During his fellowship, Dr. Tobgay plans to learn innovative approaches to substance abuse treatment and prevention and skills for building workforce development programs. He also plans to develop surveys to improve the psychological evaluation of recruits and veterans in the military.
Ms. Vu Thi Tuong Vi
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ms. Vu Thi Tuong Vi, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, received a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1999 from the University of Social Science and Humanities, Vietnam National University. She then joined the Ho Chi Minh City AIDS Committee as head of the Drug Addiction Treatment Program and deputy head of the Harm Reduction Department, a position she held for seven years. During this time, her team was responsible for planning, implementing, and monitoring addiction treatment services such as methadone treatment, counseling, recovery support groups, and case management. After obtaining her master’s in public health from Flinders University, Australia, she consulted with the Ministry of Labor to develop an operational manual for community-based drug addiction treatment. In 2015, she joined the HIV-Addiction Technology Transfer Center at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Ho Chi Minh City as a master counselor trainer and project coordinator. In this position, she focused on workforce development. Since 2017, Ms. Vu has consulted for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vietnam in developing workforce training with a focus on women substance users and evidence-based interventions to address HIV among stimulant users in Vietnam. She also has conducted research to help improve the availability and quality of substance use disorder services, including providing evidence-based treatments for LGBT and HIV patients and the provision of methadone treatment, especially in the context of reduced funding from international donors. Ms. Vu’s primary goal for her fellowship is to increase her knowledge about evidence-based interventions for underserved populations, particularly women (including transgender women) and adolescents.