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Profile: Fogarty nursing fellow Faith Beulah oversees HIV trials in India

January / February 2015 | Volume 14, Issue 1

Faith Beulah speaks at the front of a classroom, many women and men sit in rows of chairs in the audience
Photo courtesy of Faith Beulah

During her Fogarty fellowship, supported by NINR, Faith Beulah
learned how to design and launch a research project.

by Cathy Kristiansen

Faith Beulah has helped orchestrate India's part in some of the world's most important multisite HIV/AIDS clinical trials, quietly coordinating a team comprising nurses, laboratory technicians, counselors and pharmacists as they test drug regimens aimed at preventing or limiting harm from the virus. One such trial, supported by NIH, found that an infected person could avoid spreading HIV sexually to a partner by taking antiretroviral drugs - a result heralded as a science breakthrough of the year in 2011.

As the site coordinator in the Clinical Trials Unit at YRGCARE in Chennai, Beulah has a wide range of responsibilities to ensure trials proceed in a consistent, professional manner and that every problem that arises - from wrinkles in data collection to severe adverse reactions in study participants - is handled appropriately. She's the planner, trainer, implementer and troubleshooter. Regarding the nuts and bolts of the trials, she helps develop standard operating procedures, trains and motivates staff who will be involved and makes sure the protocols are set in motion exactly as planned.

Beulah joined YRGCARE as a nurse researcher after completing her master's degree in nursing and within months received a yearlong Fogarty fellowship supported by the NIH's National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). Fogarty's Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars provides one-year, mentored clinical research experiences overseas for postdoctoral Fellows and pre-doctoral Scholars, helping to foster the next generation of clinical investigators and to build global health partnerships between U.S. and other researchers and institutions.

Fellowship orientation entailed traveling to the NIH for three weeks of training, her first time outside of India. Beulah recalls, "We learned what research is all about, the different types of projects we can do, how to design and launch a research project. That was a good learning experience."

Back at home, she hit the ground running, being assigned to coordinate about 10 ongoing randomized clinical trials, under the mentorship of YRGCARE's Dr. N. Kumarasamy. One of the earliest studies under Beulah's wing was a global investigation of whether infants whose mothers took antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy, labor and postpartum suffered related harm. The research, with arms located in India, Thailand and Africa, reassured physicians the world over that the mothers' moderate antiretroviral drug doses were not tied to any defects, deaths or illness in their infants. Another trial helped boost HIV treatment adherence by demonstrating that once-daily drug regimens were as effective as twice-daily dosing. Importantly, the study also revealed that the safety and effectiveness of some antiretrovirals can differ between women and men.

It was serendipitous that Beulah began in the HIV field, with the coordinating position open just as she was job hunting. "I had been a nurse in the hospital and worked as a tutor, did my master's, then thought it would be a different experience to do research," she said. "As for nursing, in my family, most are teachers or engineers, so I decided to be different and try nursing."

Beulah also enjoys the teaching aspect of her work, disseminating what she learns from trials to other health care staff and giving feedback from international conferences she attends. She cited an example from one of the project meetings in the U.S. - that hair sample testing can indicate antiretroviral drug adherence levels. Adherence is an important aspect of managing HIV treatment in India so she held a training session for staff on returning home.

Beulah credits her fellowship experience for influencing her career. She said, "It gave me the groundwork to be competent in helping administer clinical trials, made me confident enough to talk about research with the scientists here. Now, with this rich experience in hand, I feel I can contribute a lot more in coordinating and implementing future clinical trials effectively."

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