The meeting of the U.S.-India joint working group on prevention
of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS included (from l) India’s Secretary
of Biotechnology Dr. M.K. Bhan, OAR director Dr. Jack Whitescarver, India’s Secretary of Health Research Dr. V.M. Katoch and FIC director Dr. Roger Glass.
U.S. and Indian scientists gathered recently
at NIH to review progress on international
research collaborations in the area of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Asia, home to 60 percent of the world’s population, is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in terms of the number of people living
with HIV, according to the latest U.N. statistics. India accounts for roughly half of Asia’s HIV prevalence.
This session of the U.S.-India joint working
group on prevention of sexually transmitted
diseases and HIV/AIDS was the first opportunity for researchers to report on progress made under grants awarded since the program began in 2006. The initiative is part of the implementation of the U.S.-Indo joint statement on collaboration on prevention
of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS signed by the HHS Secretary and the Indian Minister of Health.
The working group was established to develop research collaborations and facilitate the expedited
review and clearances of funded bilateral projects. The meeting included working group members, U.S. and Indian representatives of the panel of scientists appointed to review the research proposals, NIH program staff and scientists
whose projects received awards.
“This has been a successful 2 years with a lot of work on both sides,” observed Dr. Jack Whitescarver,
director of the NIH Office of AIDS Research and the JWG’s co-chair, who congratulated
the researchers and program personnel.
OAR coordinates AIDS research conducted by every NIH institute and center and established
this program to promote collaborations between U.S. and Indian scientists on HIV/AIDS research.
Nine ICs are participating in the effort, which has three components: to make awards to extramural
researchers, to support intramural labs at NIH to expand their collaborations with Indian counterparts and to support workshops and meetings that encourage collaboration and information sharing.
This collaborative program awarded 16 extramural
grant supplements in 2007, six grants for exploratory research in 2008, and supported a total of seven intramural projects in 2007 and 2008, ranging across the behavioral and biological
sciences. In just 2 years the funded researchers
have already produced findings on risk behaviors and further opportunities for HIV prevention and treatment.
Dr. V.M. Katoch, secretary of India’s Health Research Department and the meeting’s co-chair, called the program “very productive and very vibrant” and “a unique opportunity from the Indian side.”
“This is an exciting meeting,” said Fogarty International
Center director Dr. Roger Glass, “and comes at a wonderful and propitious time.” Global health ranks among the top priorities for NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, Glass noted, and the new U.S. administration has committed
itself to India, Glass told the 50 participants and observers.
Besides beginning to yield new research directions,
the program has strengthened a corps of researchers working on HIV/AIDS through a number of workshops and meetings including, for example, a session on prevention, care and treatment of HIV-related co-morbidities. Additional
training was provided through a grantsmanship
workshop for new investigators held in New Delhi.
Meeting participants discussed other ways that the program could foster a new generation of HIV/AIDS research teams. Officials from both governments agreed that short-term training exchanges can help expand the pool of researchers.
OAR has piloted the Intramural-to-India (I-to-I) Program to draw on NIH’s broad internal
expertise in HIV/AIDS research and widen the network of NIH scientists working with Indian researchers.
“The I-to-I program has demonstrated how much interest there is in this collaborative program,”
said Dr. M.K. Bhan, secretary of India’s Biotechnology Department.
Both the U.S. and Indian government members
of the working group agreed to continue the research partnership and are discussing possible initiatives for the next phase of the collaboration.
The Indian delegation’s visit also included meetings
with NIH leadership including Collins and several IC directors, meetings on maternal and child health and vaccine research and an interactive
session with NIH visiting fellows.