amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

amfAR-Funded HIV Scholars Program Featured in AIDS and Behavior Supplement

AIDS and Behavior HIV Schoalrs.jpgamfAR has partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to produce a supplement to the journal AIDS and Behavior devoted to the HIV Scholars Program at the University’s Center for LGBT Health Research.

The amfAR-funded program has supported research training for 16 young investigators from low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), as well as their individual research projects focused on HIV and AIDS among gay men, other men who have sex with men (MSM), and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT).

Now in its fourth and final year of amfAR support, the program provides five months of graduate-level training in Pittsburgh, followed by field work in the scholars’ home countries to put what they have learned into practice. Scholars have come from a wide range of countries, including Pakistan, China, South Africa, Lebanon, and Belize, among others. In some cases, they were the first within their country or region to tackle a particular HIV research question.

“This is, to our knowledge, the only program in the world designed to raise levels of scientific and public health expertise within GMT populations in LMIC,” said program director Dr. Ron Stall. “Given the high prevalence of HIV in these populations, and the extent of ongoing risk of infection, we believe that this could become an essential component of the overall effort to stop AIDS in highly vulnerable communities.”

Dr. Ron StallDr. Ron StallGMT populations are disproportionately affected by HIV around the world. In many countries, they face violence and discrimination and are routinely denied access to HIV prevention information, healthcare and other services. In LMIC in particular, the constant marginalization of GMT individuals within society means that national governments have little to no incentive to build effective HIV prevention and care programs for them.

“This initiative not only advances our understanding of HIV in resource-constrained settings, it also provides the scholars with solid evidence about their local contexts to advocate for increased access to needed HIV services,” said Michael Cowing, senior advisor for programs at amfAR.

Published in December, the supplement features 10 original papers based on the field research of five of the scholars — three from the first class and two from the second — as well as an overview of the program and testimony from past participants. Dr. Stall noted that being published as a first author in a top ranked journal like AIDS and Behavior gives these individuals an important and recognized credential, both in their work as researchers and as advocates to advance the health of GMT communities.

Other articles include an assessment of the HIV epidemic among GMT authored by staff from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and an editorial about the need for and impact of the HIV Scholars Program written by Stall, Cowing, and Dr. James Egan of the University’s Center for LGBT Health Research.

“We cannot end AIDS until we end AIDS among GMT populations, and especially GMT populations in developing world settings” Stall said. “For programs to reach GMT populations and bring them into care and prevention programs, we must have effective community partners who can work locally but think globally.”