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Fogarty AIDS Program Instructs Worldwide Fellows in Prevention

By Greg Rienzi

Chris Beyrer knows how to keep a good thing going—and growing.

In 1997, the associate research professor in Epidemiology took over the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP). The program was already largely successful, annually sponsoring 30 fellows hailing from 12 countries. But Beyrer figured, why rest there?

Now finishing up its 15th year, the program today holds the largest single international AIDS training award of the 23 funded AITRP programs in the United States. The $2,768,000 awarded to the School this year will support more than 100 fellows from 13 core countries, which include Brazil, China, Congo/Zaire, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, India, Laos, Malawi, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, and Uganda.

“When the AIDS epidemic took off, we realized there was a real shortage of people with skills in epidemiology research,” says Beyrer, MD, MPH ’90, a principal investigator of the Fogarty program as well as its director. “We wanted to provide preventive training, so why not go where the majority of patients are?”

The program’s mission is to train international health professionals in research on prevention of HIV infection. The majority of fellows participates in the Fogarty summer program, choosing to come to Baltimore for both a one-week intensive HIV prevention research course and a three-week course at the School’s Graduate Summer Institute of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. The program offers intensive lab training, notes Beyrer, so that a virologist in China, for example, can receive a level of instruction simply not available in his or her home country.

Each year several fellows opt for long-term training, endeavoring to earn an MHS, MPH, ScM, PhD, or DrPH degree. Postdoctoral and mentored training is also available to those with advanced medical degrees.

In addition, the Johns Hopkins program provides in-country training, in which Hopkins Schools of Public Health and Medicine faculty participate in local, regional, and international workshops and meetings.

Robert Bollinger, MD, MPH ’88, who has directed the Hopkins Fogarty program in India since 1992, says the program has had an unparalleled success rate in turning out future leaders in research, government, and public policy. Since 1992, Bollinger, an associate professor in the School of Medicine with a joint appointment in International Health, says, “more than 100 Indian scientists have come to Hopkins for either short-term or long-term training. All but one has returned to India to apply this training.” 

Beyrer says one program success story has been the work done in Thailand, where health professionals have in the past decade helped achieve a sustained and dramatic reduction in infection rates for HIV.

The School, in collaboration with Chiang Mai University, has a research site in Thailand that is part of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, notes Beyrer, adding, “Training in prevention is key, and we must direct our efforts there. But it’s a vaccine that will ultimately turn this thing around.”