Q&A

"We should not forget that these people are Emory alumni; they┬┐ve gone back to their countries and taken the Emory name with them, which enhances our international presence."

Carlos Del Rio

Hubert Professor and Chair of the Hubert Department of Global Health and Professor of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health

Carlos Del Rio is also Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Emory University School of Medicine. He is principal investigator and program director of the Emory AIDS International Training and Research Program, which brings young researchers in the HIV-AIDS field from other parts of the world to Emory for advanced training.

The Academic Exchange: What is the Emory Aids International Training and Research Program?

Carlos Del Rio: AITRP is a program funded by the NIH through the Fogarty International Center. It’s designed to take young, talented people from low- and middle-income countries and provide them with advanced training for HIV/AIDS research, so that they can return to their countries and make a difference in HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Some of our trainees come to Emory for degree programs, such as a master’s in public health (MPH) or a master’s of science in clinical research (MSCR). Others do their degree training through distance learning, remaining in their countries, and some participate in non-degree programs that offer laboratory training or other types of short-term training. The type of training we provide is based on the needs we identify with our collaborators in partner countries. 

Emory began participating in AITRP after our application to the NIH was successful in 1998. In that first cycle, Mexico, Georgia, Armenia, and Vietnam were our collaborating countries. In 2002 we added Ethiopia. In the first competitive renewal in 2003 we added Zambia and Rwanda. Overall, about 170 trainees have participated in the AITRP program, with forty-one of them having already graduated from Emory with an MPH or an MSCR degree. The program is now coming to an end because NIH is ending this program and replacing it with the Fogarty HIV Research program, which Emory will also be applying to. Our hope is that we will be successful and be selected to participate. 

AE: Do all of the trainees travel to Emory? 

CDR: The great majority of AITRP trainees come to Emory, but not all of them. For example, our trainees in Rwanda and Zambia don’t come here but remain in their countries and do their degree training through distance learning at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 

AE: How do you identify AITRP researchers? 

CDR: It differs by country. Most of the time, each country has a selection committee that chooses candidates they present to us. I don’t go into a country and say, I want this or that person. I rely on our partners there. Some are people in their ministries of health. Some are at universities. This program is focused on building collaboration and partnerships. Many of the people selected as AITRP trainees have already been involved in research in their countries but lack advanced training and skills. 

AE: What impact has the program had? 

CDR: There are many examples of AITRP trainees who have gone back to their countries, established programs that have improved prevention and care for HIV/AIDS, and contributed to advancing the science of HIV. I recently was in Vietnam visiting our former trainees. It was incredibly gratifying to see the people we have trained playing key roles in public health. For example, one is in the CDC Global Aids Program Office, another is a department head at the Hanoi School of Public Health, and another is a department head at a major teaching hospital. They’re seen now as the young leaders in Vietnam’s national AIDS program. Another example was a student who got an MSCR degree some years ago. During the 2009 swine influenza outbreak in Mexico he played a critical role. Even though he was trained in AIDS, his knowledge and skills allowed him to be on the response team during a public health emergency. 

AE: What does Emory offer AITRP researchers that other institutions do not? 

CDR: What they learn here in the classroom they could have learned at other institutions, but our partnership with the CDC and with the Emory Center for AIDS Research is unique and makes us strong compared to other programs. The word Emory means something in those countries, because people have degrees on their walls that say Emory. We should not forget that these people are Emory alumni; they’ve gone back to their countries and taken the Emory name with them, which enhances our international presence. The trainees also leave with a greater appreciation of America and of team science. During last year’s reception for international fellows, one from Saudi Arabia came up to me and said, “Now I realize why the United States is such a great country: Here we are in this room with people from all over the world and we’re all talking to each other, and we’re all friends with each other. This would never happen in any other country I’ve been to.” 

I think that is part of the incredible value of a program like this. Not only does it contribute to the culture here, it also contributes to long-term international relationships and makes people realize that a lot of long-standing grudges and enemies we have developed over the years result because we really don’t know those people.