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Epidemiologist With a View

By Jon Jefferson

On a clear afternoon, David Celentano's sixth-floor office window lets him see whether he should avoid traffic tie-ups on I-95 South, three miles away. Even on hazy days, his lofty perch lets him peer down at neighborhoods beset with traffic woes of a different kind. "East Baltimore has the highest rate of injection-drug use in the city," Celentano says, "and Baltimore's rate is the nation's fourth-highest in HIV/AIDS."

Celentano's view—professionally, that is—also wraps around the globe to another HIV/AIDS hot spot: Thailand, where he has led HIV/AIDS research and prevention efforts for the past 15 years. Director of the Bloomberg School's Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program, Celentano oversees a collaborative Thai program that involves 15 other Hopkins faculty, the entire health sciences faculty at Chiang Mai University and more than 400 Thai project workers.

In one landmark study on a Thai military base, the researchers recruited soldiers to serve as peer counselors, figuring that young men relied most on peers for information about sexually transmitted diseases. They figured right. "We cut new cases of HIV infection by half," Celentano says, "and knocked the STD rate down sevenfold. Clearly peer-to-peer was the way to go."

"David has been a major collaborator with the Research Institute for Health Sciences ever since the beginning of Thailand's HIV/AIDS epidemic," says Thira Sirisanthana, who directs the institute at Chiang Mai University. "Our research, especially on behavioral intervention in military conscripts, has contributed in a major way to the success of the Thai HIV/AIDS prevention program."

In recognition of his contributions, Celentano has received an honorary PhD from Chiang Mai University. The degree was conferred on him by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at a ceremony on January 26.

But Celentano's not resting on his laurels. A Thai crackdown on heroin has driven many users to methamphetamines. So far, the HIV/AIDS rate among meth users (most of whom smoke the drug) is just 1 percent, though the former heroin users could spread HIV rapidly through sexual contact. Celentano hopes peer counseling can prevent an outbreak.