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UCLA Magazine Winter 2004
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Winter 2004
East Meets Westwood
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Indian woman demonstrating use of condom

Photograph by Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images

KOLKATA, INDIA: Lalita, a sex worker-turned-social worker, shows her friends how to use a condom as part of an HIV/AIDS awareness-and- prevention campaign in a red-light district of Kolkata. India accounts for 60 percent of HIV cases in Asia.
FROM THE START, the program’s objective has been simple: to build the capacity of the overseas institutions to control HIV/AIDS by preparing trainees in the most sophisticated epidemiological techniques and research methods. Given that mission, Detels was adamant on two counts. First, trainees would be required to complete the fieldwork for their master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation on their home turf, tackling an urgent HIV-related problem. "It’s my feeling that if you’re working with developing countries, it’s not appropriate to put them through esoteric research," Detels says. "You want them involved in projects that are going to contribute to informed health policy, because that’s where the need is." Second, in exchange for their scholarship, trainees would have to promise to return to their home institution at the completion of the program. In a country such as China, applicants had to be carefully screened to ensure that their interest in the program wasn’t merely a vehicle for defection.

As the UCLA/Fogarty program was being launched, many of the collaborating nations were grappling with their first reports of rapidly spreading HIV. Not wanting to pull leaders out of their country for a two- to-four-year program at such a time of need, Detels traveled abroad and offered one-to-two-week in-country training courses as an alternative. The short courses had the dual benefit of helping the developing nations get their HIV/AIDS-control programs up and running while also strengthening UCLA’s relationships with the collaborating institutions. Detels was often afforded the chance to meet with government officials, urging them to recognize and invest in addressing their epidemic’s root causes.

Some were more realistic than others. On one occasion, an official flatly told Detels his country didn’t have sex workers. "That’s awfully interesting," Detels said in reply, "considering the major reception committee of young ladies when I arrived at my hotel."

In the end, many nations listened. Detels assisted the Myanmar and Indonesian governments, as well as Thailand’s and Cambodia’s, in establishing sentinel-surveillance systems, and has mentored many trainees in subsequent studies that evaluate and update these early-warning programs as the epidemic evolves. Moreover, the extensive network Detels built across the region has led to numerous collaborations on research and prevention programs, often long after his trainees have returned to assume leadership positions back home.


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