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First health sciences PhD takes on HIV/AIDS

October 7, 2010

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By Helena Bryan

Nathan Ford isn’t too impressed by rankings. Earning SFU’s first health sciences PhD, for example, means much less to him than what he plans to do with it—help improve care for people with HIV/AIDS in the world’s most impoverished countries.

Not that the U.K.-born overachiever doesn’t appreciate what it took to get the new PhD program up and running.

"They had to be flexible and respond to obstacles as they arose," he says, "and I’m very grateful to staff in the Faculty of Health Sciences and the office of the Dean of Graduate studies for all the support they provided over the past few years."

Ford’s interest in HIV/AIDS was ignited when he was an undergraduate studying microbiology and virology at Britain’s University of Warwick in the early 1990s. He remembers during one class being shown how the epidemic was spreading along major trucking routes, reflecting its proliferation by heterosexual transmission via the sex trade. "We were told this single virus could have a major impact on economic underdevelopment in Africa, what was already the world’s poorest continent," he says. That was enough. From then on he was hooked on issues of social injustice, health inequalities and particularly HIV/AIDS.

So much so that even before doing his PhD, he was widely published on issues of HIV/AIDS funding and treatment access. What the PhD has given him is added credibility, he says.

"I now have the methodological skills for epidemiological analysis and can more rigorously assess the evidence in support of various models of care delivery."

Currently working in England as the medical coordinator for the international office of Doctors Without Borders, he is also continuing his HIV/AIDS research, including collaborating with his PhD supervisors at SFU.

It’s not all work and no play, though. He surfs and cooks when he really needs to switch off. But he rarely needs to. "I find the work I do very enjoyable," he says. "I just hope that’s not what every unreformed workaholic says."

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