East Meets Westwood
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FROM THE START,
by Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images
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.
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.