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UCLA Magazine Winter 2004
From Murphy Hall
Dance in the Time of AIDS
Off the Wall
East Meets Westwood
Too Liberal?
Stemming the Nuclear Tide
Cyber Vision
Acting Local to Think Global
Bruin Walk

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Winter 2004
East Meets Westwood
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"The UCLA program has had an amazing impact in the Far East," says Kenneth Bridbord, director of the Division of International Training and Research at the John E. Fogarty International Center, the international agency within the National Institutes of Health that funds scientific research to reduce global health disparities. "If you had to use one word to describe it, it would be ‘leadership’ — leadership in science and in public health for that part of the world where the UCLA/Fogarty AITRP has focused."

That ‘leadership’, spearheaded by founder and director Roger Detels, extends well beyond the tutelage the trainees receive while under the AITRP’s auspices. Through the contacts he’s made over the program’s 16 years — and on the basis of his groundbreaking work in the United States as head of the long-running UCLA Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study — Detels, a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, is often brought into HIV/AIDS-policy discussions and scientific investigations in Southeast Asia and beyond, having been invited to consult with numerous government and public-health officials.

"Dr. Detels has a lot of experience, and at the same time he also has a lot of vision about the future," says Warunee Punpanich, a pediatrician at a large hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, that serves underprivileged children, 600 of whom are currently being treated after being born to HIV-infected mothers. She was sent to UCLA to become the facility’s first physician fully trained in epidemiology. "[Detels] has seen why some countries’ programs are successful and some are not," she says.

HIV INITIALLY SPREADS THROUGH HIGH-RISK GROUPS — in Asia, it has most commonly started in sex workers and injection-drug users — before moving into the general population. The most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease is to protect these marginalized, high-risk populations — not always a popular political move.

Yet, there are success stories. In Thailand, more than a million people have been infected with HIV, but because of aggressive campaigns for clean needles, condom distribution and education, that’s nearly 400,000 less than had been projected to occur by this point. The Thais responded swiftly to the first sign of a problem, establishing an early-warning system (known in epidemiology as "sentinel surveillance") with assistance from Detels and one of his former trainees; they followed up with bold strategies, including a strict edict requiring brothels to ensure that condoms were used by every client. New cases of HIV infection dropped by 80 percent.

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