Belfast doctor, back from Africa, continues life-saving research

By Dan West | Jan 31, 2014
Courtesy of: Peter Millard Peter Millard with a student from Mozambique.

Belfast — Doctor Peter Millard has spent the last five years teaching medicine in Mozambique, and relocated to Belfast where he is continuing research on techniques to slow the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Millard worked at the Catholic university of Mozambique for the past five years, where he taught medical students and worked at a clinic doing general family medicine. The clinic was different from many found in Africa as it integrated HIV treatment with the rest of the family medicine practice. This allowed families to be kept together when visiting the clinic, Millard said.

"We didn't divide them by diseases, which helps to reduce the stigma," Millard said. "It is family centered, so the kids don't get separated from their parents."

During his time in Mozambique Millard helped to educate more than 200 students from the eastern African country. The education system is different from the United States, Millard said. The students were not as well prepared and their math and science education was weak; however, Millard said the students made great strides and were adept at the practical aspects of medicine.

The country itself has made progress fighting HIV. Millard said 16 percent of the population is infected with HIV and in 2005 almost none were on treatment. Now there are more than 1 million being treated.

"That really is our tax dollars at work," Millard said. "The U.S. government funds a lot of the AIDS treatment."

However, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As such Millard spent his time in Africa researching a technique to slow the spread of the disease. With the help of his students Millard has worked to develop a "minimally invasive" technique for adult circumcision.

Circumcision is important, Millard explained, because it reduces the transmission rate from women to men by 60 percent.

"If we had a vaccine that did that we'd give it to everybody," Millard said.

Millard explained that the current circumcision procedure is invasive and involves suturing the incision. His new procedure instead uses a type of clamp similar to what is used on infants in the United States, along with some modern techniques to close the area of the incision, making for a less invasive procedure.

While the technique is promising, Millard said he still needs to do more field trials, and may even do one in Orono. He decided to move to Belfast when returning because his wife, who taught with him in Africa, found a job as school nurse at Belfast Area High School. He took a job at Seaport Community Health Center in Belfast where he continues to work with medical students, this time from Tufts University and the University of New England.

Millard said he is happy to be able to continue his research and to continue to teach, which he said was the most rewarding part of his Africa trip.

"It's great seeing the students mature in their decision making," Millard said. "I feel like I trained some fine doctors in Mozambique who can make a big difference in the long run."

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