Ryan Davis: Back in the Lab after a Year in Botswana

Ryan Davis on Kgale Hill overlooking Gaborone
Ryan Davis on Kgale Hill overlooking Gaborone

In the summer of 2012, Dr. Ryan Davis started work as a post doc in the Essex Lab. He had just returned from a year at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute as a Fulbright-Fogarty Fellow.
Born and raised near Cincinnati, Ohio, Ryan received his BA in English and Chemistry from Georgetown University. His undergraduate volunteer work at the Whitman-Walker HIV clinic inspired interests in health disparities, infectious diseases, and cross-cultural medicine. He earned an MPH from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an MD from the Medical School for International Health, a Columbia University-affiliated program at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

Ryan sat down for a Q&A shortly after arriving at HAI headquarters in Boston.

What was your purpose in spending a year at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute?

I saw the Fulbright/Fogarty Fellowship as an opportunity for research training in a global setting while committing enough time for a project that could be meaningful both for my own career development and for my host institution and study population. My research involves optimizing a pooling strategy to cost-effectively diagnose acute HIV infection using PCR and dried blot spot samples. Working with my local mentors in Botswana and observing how my Harvard mentors collaborated equitably, I’ve come away with a better rounded image of my own long-term goals.

Did working in Botswana change the way you look at AIDS?

Already I had been touched to witness the impact of HIV in clinical settings, but arriving in Botswana, I was struck first to find the pervasive impact of HIV on the society, but looking closer, to find the pervasive impact of different people throughout society on the epidemic they are confronting together. From educators to family members and local leaders, the response is not confined to physicians or the healthcare sector but taken up by determined individuals across the community.

Outside of AIDS research, what’s the most memorable thing you did in Africa?

Camping out under the stars on the Makgadikgadi salt pans was something of a poetic reminder about what you find when you get away from the bright lights and agendas.

What are you working on now?
Since coming to Boston, I have been analyzing my Botswana data set, preparing for a presentation at the AIDS 2012 conference, and putting together a manuscript. I’m also developing a new project to build on these results and implement our findings.

About Martha S Henry

Martha Henry is the Director of Communications for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative.