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Home > Global Health Matters Jul/Aug 2021 > Former Fogarty trainee now leads infectious disease research in Uganda Print

Former Fogarty trainee now leads infectious disease research in Uganda

July / August 2021 | Volume 20 Number 4

Q&A with Dr. Andrew Kambugu

Head shot image of Dr KambuguAndrew Kambugu, MBCHB, MMED

Dr. Andrew Kambugu is the Sande-McKinnell Executive Director of the Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) in Kampala, Uganda. He is also honorary lecturer at Makerere University and associate professor at the University of Minnesota. Kambugu earned his basic and residency medical degree from Makerere with Fogarty support and then received advanced training in infectious disease research in the U.S. Since then, he has been a principal investigator on numerous NIH grants involving topics such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and cervical cancer, in addition to a Fogarty training grant that is helping to enhance HIV research capacity in East Africa.

Tell us about your early career.

After five years of medical school and then my internship—all sponsored by the Ugandan government—I was surprised to find no openings for doctors in government departments, so I became a research assistant for projects at Makerere University. I was then selected as one of the first Ugandan trainees under Fogarty’s AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) grant and my life has never been the same. In life there are significant forks in the road and this was one for me. My training in the U.S. was transformative. That’s when I began to have an inkling that I might have a propensity for research even though I loved clinical medicine.

How did you benefit from Fogarty training?

During my time at Case Western Reserve University in the U.S., I honed my clinical and research skills. This was my baptism into research, from conception of the idea, undertaking a literature review to shape it into a good research question, writing up the full proposal and navigating it through the research ethics approval process. I then made all the logistical arrangements to undertake the study and to collect the relevant data, analyze it and write the paper. It gave me a good grounding in the nuts and bolts of research.

How did you progress on the research track? 

When I returned to Uganda, I was asked to lead IDI’s prevention, care and treatment program. After seven years in that role, I became head of research and have been leading the entire Institute for three years now. I transitioned to research because of my conviction that the visibility of African leadership in research should be enhanced at IDI. We created a program that supports African scientists—many who are women—over the longer term so they can truly become independent research thought leaders. Another area of focus is implementation science. We were generating a lot of data from our HIV programs and I recognized we needed to use that information in crafting evidence-based interventions.  

I also served as principal investigator on a CDCfunded national study that examined whether welltrained nurses could perform as well as doctors with respect to initiating and monitoring patients on antiretroviral therapy. The resulting data was published and helped influence government policy. I am also a member of HIV advisory groups, which influence our health ministry’s development of treatment protocols. Finally, I have been principal investigator on several NIH research grants and am currently PI on a Fogarty grant focusing on HIV and co-infections. I began as a Fogarty trainee and evolved into a Fogarty PI, where I help cultivate the next generation of research leaders.

What are your priorities for the future?

The institute is keen to continue contributing to HIV knowledge through our research innovations and evidence-based programming. During a strategy planning meeting, we saw that the IDI has done a really good job of identifying people with HIV, putting them in care and making sure they adhere to medication. What else can we do? If you look at a map of Africa, Uganda is near a hotspot where there is a lot of human-animal interaction that could give rise to emerging infectious diseases. In 2016, we began to establish a global health security program by piecing together a growing portfolio of projects, including infection treatment and antimicrobial resistance. When COVID-19 appeared, we felt vindicated for making an investment in emerging infectious diseases. Data science is also a focus area for IDI, which has become a center of excellence in this space. I want to create an environment where younger scientists can build their careers as I have. Fogarty can take pride in seeing African research leaders like me, who had their initial exposure to global public health through their programs, now mentoring the next generation. 

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