Twenty-five years ago, Fogarty embarked on a brave experiment - to see if it was possible to train a generation of developing country scientists capable of leading world-class research efforts in their home countries. Prompted by the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic, Fogarty's leadership realized the importance of empowering local experts to study how the disease was being transmitted in their cultures and how best to tailor approaches to halt it.
Today, the research landscape is transformed. Fogarty's AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) has played a vital role in preparing as many as 2,000 developing country researchers to contribute to landmark discoveries in the HIV/AIDS field. From proving antiretroviral adherence is possible in low-resource settings, to learning to prevent mother-to-child transmission, to cutting-edge work on microbicides and circumcision, Fogarty's trainees have been at the forefront.
In celebration of these and other successes - as well as to review the challenges that remain - Fogarty held a meeting recently with the program's primary investigators, trainees and program directors.
Photo by Jeff Grey/Fogarty
Fogarty grantees and collaborators met to celebrate
the 25th anniversary of the Center's AIDS
International Training and Research Program (AITRP).
"The AITRP has had a huge impact,” said Fogarty Director Roger I. Glass. "It's really heart-warming. This is a relatively small program, but it has really counted in building the cadre of researchers who have helped bring the scientific discoveries that turned HIV/AIDS from a lethal disease to a chronic, manageable one." He added that the brainchild behind AITRP, Dr. Ken Bridbord, and its main manager today, Dr. Jeanne McDermott, have "really made it work."
Now the program is entering its next phase, combining with another implementation effort and being recast as the Fogarty HIV Research Training Program. New Fogarty-sponsored projects will focus on building or strengthening capacity in a particular scientific or critical research infrastructure area of importance to a developing country.
Program directors and trainees at the meeting warmly recounted how AITRP led to so much more than increasing academic knowledge in select trainees. Alumni returned home and passed on what they learned to expanded numbers of additional trainees. Relationships among those involved in the program, including the U.S. partners, have continued. And many former trainees are now policymakers themselves, not only in the HIV/AIDS arena but also in global or public health institutions.
One former AITRP trainee with an impressive track record is Dr. Patty Garcia. A professor and researcher at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru, she was the first woman to serve as chief of Peru's National Health Institutes. From a single Fogarty grant, the university has built a diverse research portfolio and competed successfully for about 20 NIH grants and contracts. "AITRP has changed our lives," Garcia commented. "It has given capital to institutions that will keep building more collaborations as we go forward."
Although AITRP is widely acclaimed now, when it was launched the concept of developing research capacity in low-resource settings seemed a risky proposition to some. "My initial reaction was, it's just pie in the sky," recalled AITRP grantee Dr. Quarraisha Abdool Karim, of Columbia University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and CAPRISA (Center for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa). However, she said, it has transformed the landscape, producing HIV/AIDS research that opened the door to new approaches to treatment and prevention.
She reminded the audience that the battle against HIV/AIDS is far from won and research needs to focus on producing a vaccine, reaching untreated populations and integrating the treatment of HIV and its co-infections.
As attendees at Fogarty's meeting concurred, AITRP established a worthy blueprint for future funding programs that they hope and believe can help bring to an end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.