Scientist Profiles

Dr. Barbara Burmen

Senior Research Officer HIV and TB Implementation Science at KEMRI

A medical doctor, an epidemiologist, researcher and mentor pursuing innovative ways to enhance HIV and TB program outputs to make sure that “The most updated research evidence gets to the end-user.”
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When Dr. Barbara Burmen first graduated as a medical doctor, a profession she wanted to pursue since childhood, HIV/AIDS was prevalent and life-saving HIV treatment was not available in Kenya. At the time, “a HIV diagnosis was still a death sentence.” Soon after, antiretroviral (ART) medication became freely available in Kenya; there was an urgent need to enhance her clinical skills in HIV management and get the medication to as many people as possible within the shortest time possible.  She made the move to begin working in a HIV clinic within a Kenyan District Hospital and later managed HIV infected patients within the private sector. Dr. Burmen, is now a thought leader in TB and HIV operations research in Kenya.

Currently, Dr. Burmen’s research is focused on the use of patient education and health worker reminders to enhance screening for Cervical Cancer among HIV infected women. Once a woman becomes sexually active, she is likely to contract Human Papilloma Virus HPV which is known to be associated with the development of cervical cancer.

If the woman is HIV positive, then the progression of HPV lesions to cervical cancer is faster than in HIV negative women. Dr. Burmen and her team are currently evaluating the frequency of screening for cervical cancer among HIV positive women .  Although existing Kenyan guidelines direct health workers to screen HIV positive women at diagnosis, at month six following diagnosis, then yearly thereafter, her preliminary results show that less than 25% of HIV infected women at her study site have been screened for Cervical Cancer at least once.

With the presence of ART medication, active screening and timely intervention for cervical cancer, being HIV positive is no longer a death sentence, neither is cervical cancer. Screening and treatment for both diseases is now available and accessible.  

In the past, Dr. Burmen research has covered the health outcomes of HIV exposed-  infants. Her prospective research will now focus on HIV exposed uninfected infants. i.e. children born to HIV positive mothers who turn HIV negative. “Ironically this stems from the success of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV Programs,” she explains, “ We have a new problem...These children, the HIV exposed uninfected infants,  have poorer health outcomes because of their exposure to HIV and HIV medication in the womb.” Although these children have better health outcomes than HIV infected infants, their outcomes are not similar to those of children born to HIV negative mothers. Her research, within the Collaborative Initiative for Pediatric HIV Education and Research, CIPHER Cohort Global Collaboration will provide an international focus on correctly ‘defining’ these infants, their health outcomes and propose possible interventions for HIV health programs globally.

Mawazo Institute