Preventing sexually transmitted diseases in Peru

August 2010 | Volume 9, Issue 4

Dr. Magaly Blas
Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar and Fellow


“I want my work to change the health of a population, not one individual person after another,” says Fogarty Scholar, Fellow and grantee Dr. Magaly Blas, who considers Fogarty a partner in her career.

A native of Peru, she was first a Scholar in the Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars and Fellows Program in 2004. Then Fogarty funded her advanced studies in epidemiology at the University of Washington, where she received her master’s and Ph.D. In 2009, she returned to the clinical research program as a Fellow.

Photo: Dr Magaly Blas, seated in an exam room wearing gloves, collects a blood sample from the finger of a man seated opposite
Photo by David Snyder

Peruvian researcher Dr. Magaly Blas -- a former
Fogarty Scholar and Fellow -- is working to
reduce sexually transmitted infections among
underserved populations in her native country.

Now, a re-entry grant from Fogarty’s Global Research Initiative Program is providing financial support for her work back in Peru. Designed to prevent brain drain, the program provides incentives to ensure that trainees’ expertise is put to use in their home country.

As a Scholar, Blas had hands-on experience in diverse research projects and began exploring several areas of interest. As a Fellow, she continued studies to help two vulnerable populations: poor, indigenous women of the Amazon and, in the city, men who have sex with men (MSM).

Her interest in these topics was sparked while working on a vitamin deficiency project in the Amazon during medical school and by participating in a national intervention to decrease sexually transmitted infections early in her career. Her interest in the sexual health of underserved populations was intensified by the inequalities she witnessed within her own country and between Peru and the U.S.

Working in the jungle, Blas deals with tribal issues, the native dialectand women who hold very traditional roles. Talking about sexual matters is uncomfortable for women, even married women, whose husbands often speak for them.

The urban MSM community has a culture of its own, too. “Most of these men do not identify themselves as gay,” says Blas, “but heterosexual, which makes it hard to reach them with HIV prevention messages.”

Today, Blas is an associate professor and researcher at the Cayetano Heredia University in Lima. In addition to teaching, she is investigating the best ways to use technology to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and promote HIV testing in the MSM population.

In the Amazon she is studying the human papillomavirus and human T-cell lymphotropic virus, both implicated in cancer and other diseases. She’s also managing an HPV vaccine trial.

Blas credits her growth and enthusiasm as a researcher to quality mentoring: she had the same advisors as both a Scholar and Fellow. In addition to sharing scientific expertise, Peruvians Dr. Cesar Carcamo and Dr. Patricia Garcia, together with American Dr. Joe Zunt, provided useful guidance.

Carcamo helped Blas develop her skills in methodology and data analysis. He also shared his observations about balancing family and work and coping with personal and professional problems. Zunt taught her how to write grants and draft articles that appeal to scientific journals.

“Patricia Garcia taught me how to negotiate the terms of studies with partners from different countries,” says Blas. “She also guided my career development, prepping me for interviews and talking to me about establishing a professional network.”

Fogarty isn’t the only organization that’s impressed with Blas. She’s also funded by the National Cancer Institute at NIH and recently received the Global Health Council’s new investigator award.

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