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Former Fogarty trainee now leads infectious disease research in Uganda
July / August 2021 | Volume 20 Number 4
Q&A with Dr. Andrew Kambugu
Andrew 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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