9:00 AM. My calls this morning were cancelled. It’s always difficult to reschedule calls given everyone’s busy schedules, but this is good news for me today since I will finally have a few hours to work on a study protocol and tools that we are working on.
At noon, our Strategic Information Unit holds a “think tank” meeting. Our unit began holding this monthly meeting recently as a way to share experiences, keep up to date with the literature and discuss new study findings. One of my colleagues just came back from the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) and we used today’s meeting to discuss some of the latest science shared at the conference. Conferences are a great way for those in the field of epidemiology and public health to learn what others are working on, where the field is headed and also do some networking.
An interesting finding presented at CROI this year relates to financial incentives. A recent study in the US showed that paying people to take their HIV drugs did not have a significant improvement on their adherence to their treatment regimen. A bit of HIV care and treatment 101: once a person is diagnosed as HIV infected, it is crucial that they link to care and start antiretroviral treatment as soon as they are eligible. Once beginning treatment, one must continue on treatment for life, not only for their own individual health, but to reduce the risk of infecting others. In fact, the use of financial incentives is one of the interventions that we are evaluating in the study in Mozambique I mentioned on Monday.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of the work I do is being able to collaborate with the brightest public health professionals in the countries in which we work. These are dedicated and hardworking professionals who are truly making a difference. I’m fluent in French and Portuguese, which has proved very useful in providing technical support to the Francophone and Lusophone countries where we work. In countries such as Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique for example, very few people speak English fluently. Most of our colleagues working in these countries do speak English, however, we typically converse in French or Portuguese rather than English. I always share with students I mentor that it is never too late to learn another language, particularly if you plan to do international work.
In the afternoon, I begin working on travel preparations for my upcoming trip to Mali and Cameroon in mid-April. Typically, I travel several times a year to Africa. I know that I’ve been travelling too much when I’m about to earn frequent flyer Diamond Status, the flight attendants start recognizing me and I have seen all the in-flight movies available. I have always enjoyed travelling for work. And even though Skype and email are great, you definitely need to travel to understand well the setting and in order to provide better technical assistance. The logistics are a bit more complicated now with a baby, but nothing that cannot be solved with some planning ahead of time.
MOVIE OF THE DAY: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Today’s film narrates the story of an HIV-infected person who smuggled unapproved pharmaceutical drugs into Texas in the ’80s to prolong his own life and the lives of others, and faced opposition from the FDA. This story is based in true events. As always, Matthew McConaughey is superb in his lead role!
I find it amazing how much has changed since the beginning of the HIV epidemic when antiretroviral drugs were unavailable. Once drugs did become available, they were too expensive for many to afford, let alone make available in Africa, where many people said that it would be impossible to provide ART. Today, thanks to the struggles and commitment of so many, HIV drugs are widely available and affordable (or even free) worldwide to those who need them. But still, so much to do to make the HIV epidemic something of the past….