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Weir Awarded USAID’s Science and Technology Pioneers Prize

January 25, 2014
Gillings School of Global Public Health

Sharon Weir, research assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and fellow at UNC’s Carolina Population Center, has received the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Science and Technology Pioneers Prize for her efforts to develop and use the Priorities for Local AIDS Control Efforts (PLACE) Method.

PLACE uses data to identify areas with high incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, including venues and events at which people meet new sexual or needle-sharing partners. Using low-cost global positioning system receivers and free Google Earth software, the method produces coverage maps showing gaps in prevention programs and allows strategic planners to assess the most at-risk areas to deliver timely HIV preventive and treatment responses. Currently being deployed in Uganda after successful application in South Africa, PLACE has been replicated in 28 countries and has mapped more than 100 target areas.

The Pioneers prize is awarded to projects and activities funded by USAID that apply science and technology to address development challenges.

Two of the 14 prizes were presented to the UNC’s MEASURE Evaluation project, which is implemented by the Carolina Population Center. In addition to Weir’s, a runner-up prize was awarded to Mark Sobsey, Kenan Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School, for a compartment bag test (CBT) that quickly and accurately assesses fecal bacteria contamination in drinking water. (See earlier news.) The CBT already has been put to use in two dozen countries.

“MEASURE Evaluation addresses global health challenges in resource-poor settings in a wide variety of cultures,” said Jim Thomas, associate professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and MEASURE Evaluation director. “We must constantly innovate in ways that are practical, effective and affordable. To have been awarded USAID Science and Technology Pioneers Prizes is strong affirmation that we are among the best in what we do.”

Weir said she felt honored to win the award. “We’ve been working on the PLACE method since 1999, and it’s very gratifying that USAID has recognized it in this way,” she said.

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