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Top AIDS trainees salute Fogarty

July - August, 2008  |  Volume 7, Issue 4

Dr. N. Kumarasamy speaks to audience at the historic Palacio de la Autonomia with other panelists: Dr. Danstan Begenda,

Dr. N. Kumarasamy discusses how AITRP
furthered his career during the program's
20th anniversary celebration in Mexico
City. Looking on are former AITRP trainees
(from left) Dr. Danstan Begenda and
Dr. Alex Opio, both of Uganda, and
Dr. Jean "Bill"Pape of Haiti.

Some of Fogarty's most notable trainees paid tribute to the Center's AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) during a birthday celebration in Mexico City, held as an affiliated event of the International AIDS Conference.

About 100 Fogarty friends, grantees and trainees gathered at the historic Palacio de la Autonomia to mark AITRP's 20th anniversary and Fogarty's 40th.

Dr. Luis Soto-Ramirez, co-chair of the AIDS conference and a former Fogarty trainee, welcomed the guests, crediting his Fogarty-supported training at Harvard as "the most amazing years" and said the experience "made such a difference in my life." He also paid homage to AITRP's architect and champion, Dr. Ken Bridbord, Fogarty's director of training and research programs.

Dr. Ruth Nduati, internationally recognized for her research involving mother-to-child HIV transmission, remembered her AITRP training at the University of Washington as "a very stimulating and empowering process."

It was exciting to be taught by the people who wrote the textbooks, she said, and to interact with other trainees from around the world who were grappling with the same problems she was.

Star alumni celebrate AIDS training program

Nduati holds a leadership position in an African AIDS researchers' network, is PI on a PEPFAR grant, teaches at the University of Nairobi and does clinical work at Kenyatta National Hospital.

"I feel honored that through my Fogarty training, to have the privilege as an African physician, as someone who was born in a hut with mud walls, to come from that and to participate in a forum like this--I am truly grateful," she said.

For Dr. Alex Opio, a senior official in Uganda's Ministry of Health, AITRP provided access to training that has been "extremely useful" to his career, he said. Opio - who received his Ph.D. from Case Western with AITPR support - played a key role in managing Uganda's ebola outbreaks in 2001 and 2007, he said. "The training I received through Fogarty equipped me with the knowledge and skills I needed for my work."

Opio also directs his country's programs to control STD/AIDS, malaria, TB and leprosy and has developed a number of national policies and strategies for preventing and controlling communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Roger Glass and Dr. Ruth Ndduati of Kenya.

Center Director Dr. Roger I.
Glass welcomes Dr. Ruth
Nduati of Kenya.

Numerous other Fogarty alumni have also risen to positions as global leaders in the fight against AIDS, said Dr. Roger I. Glass, the Center's director.

The program - designed to build research capacity in low- and middle-income countries - became the model for a dozen or so Fogarty programs that followed. Its philosophy of flexibility, sensitivity to local needs, long-term investment and encouragement of full partnerships between U.S. and foreign scientists is central to it success, Glass said.

While acknowledging accomplishments of AITRP trainees in areas such as HIV screening, mother-to-child transmission and couples counseling, he urged the audience to move forward on prevention and implementation research. "We have the tools but we really lack the knowledge to implement these well," he said.

From the nearly 50 speaker nominations submitted to AITRP program directors, 16 celebrated trainees were selected by the planning committee - including Dr. Warren Johnson of Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University and Dr. Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina - which organized the session and reception that followed.

As master of ceremonies for the session, Dr. Jean "Bill" Pape, Haiti's leading HIV/AIDS expert and a senior AITRP collaborator, had the final word, "There is no better example than Fogarty to show one single world united fighting the HIV disease." 

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