4/3/10: Brown is making significant contributions to efforts to curb the AIDS epidemic in India according to Professor of Medicine Kenneth Mayer. After South Africa and Nigeria, India has the third largest population in the world living with HIV/AIDS, he said in a recent talk on “AIDS in India: Brown’s Involvement in a Dynamic Epidemic.” Researchers estimate that 2 million to 3 million people in India are infected.
Brown has collaborated with Indian institutions in responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic since 1993, when the University received a grant from the National Institute of Health’s Fogarty International Center to establish an AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) in partnership with Tufts University. The AITRP aims to train and mentor foreign scientists in laboratory, clinical, and socio-behavioral research that will help scholars address the HIV/AIDS epidemics in their own countries. Brown and Tufts have trained more than 100 researchers in Cambodia, India, Indonesia Kenya, and the Philippines since the program began. Mayer said that Fogarty-supported clinical research, such as studies on how to develop cost-effective treatment and prevent mother-to-child transmission, may have the capacity to alter the Asian epidemic. “The Fogarty Center has been so happy with this work that they have done spin-offs with other diseases,” he added.
In India, Brown’s longest collaboration has been with Y.R. Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education (YRG CARE). Mayer said it has been a gratifying partnership because Tamil Nadu, where YRG CARE is located, has seen a slowing in its epidemic. “This is not just because of YRG Care, but YRG CARE has been important,” he said. YRG CARE was founded in 1993 by Dr. Suniti Solomon, who is still the center’s director today. “The organization started as a hospice-type space, and now takes care of more than 13,000 people,” Mayer said. Indian manufacturers were among the first to make antiretroviral therapies available cheaply, and the center has helped to increase access to these drugs.
In addition to providing direct care, the center also runs AIDS clinical trials and develops education and prevention programs (pictured above). It addresses cultural issues and works on sensitizing clients who are considered high-risk. Many Brown students have gone to work at YRG CARE, Mayer said. These students have helped with research by contributing quantitative skills, producing literature reviews, developing questionnaires, assisting in IRB submissions, and conducting interviews. Some have become co-authors on YRG CARE papers.
Brown is also involved in HIV/AIDS work in Mumbai, where efforts are focused on an emerging epidemic among men having sex with men. Mayer said men are given a de facto message that they must marry women – but can then do as they please in secret. This pattern of secrecy presents challenges for prevention. Almost one-third of male sex workers in Mumbai are HIV positive, Mayer said. Fogarty scholars trained at Brown are helping to develop culturally appropriate responses to this epidemic. The Fogarty Executive Committee at Brown includes a bioethicist who helps scholars consider ethical questions about doing HIV/AIDS work in their home countries, Mayer noted.
Mayer concluded his talk by encouraging continued action in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India. He cited an African proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” ”There are lots of opportunities for work abroad,” he said, speaking in particular to students in the room. “Part of a good education now is international understanding.”
By Year of India Coordinator Anastasia Aguiar ’09