Ana Paula Blower (Fiocruz News Agency)
A delegation of American congressional staffers and U.S. government representatives visited Fiocruz to learn about projects that have received funding from the country. These include studies on tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. During the visit, on April 3rd and 4th, the group visited the Foundation's units, plant and laboratories, attended meetings, as well as gathered information about what has been done and what can still be built with the funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some projects, for example, are still in the funding renewal stage. The Vice President of Environment, Care and Health Promotion, Patricia Canto, made an institutional presentation of Fiocruz.
For two days, the US delegation visited laboratories and participated in meetings at Fiocruz (Photo: Peter Ilicciev)
The U.S. delegation consisted of congressional staffers, representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC. The group sought to highlight the partnerships in health collaboration with Brazilian institutions and the achievements that have improved health outcomes in the country and the region.
“Fiocruz is an incredibly important partner for the Department of Health and Human Services, including the CDC, where I work, but also for the NIH. We have achieved great things together, and these two days of visits allowed us to share with the congressional staff the impact of the achievements. This partnership has certainly generated a very positive impact in Brazil, in the region and around the world” said Alison Kelly, from the CDC's South America Regional Office in Brasília.
In the United States, Fiocruz's works with the NIH, which offers financial support to several research projects through its institutes., and the CDC, which also maintains partnerships with units of Fiocruz, as well as several universities in Brazil. Currently, there are two agreements in place with the NIH: one executed in a letter of intent of May 2014, which ends in May of this year, and another of collaboration with the René Rachou Institute (IRR/Fiocruz Minas) that started in December 2018 and lasts until December 2023.
The Vice President of Environment, Care and Health Promotion, Patricia Canto, made an institutional presentation of Fiocruz (Photo: Peter Ilicciev)
The delegation first visited the facilities of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (INI/Fiocruz), which has a number of projects benefiting from NIH funding. One of them is directed to the tuberculosis research network in Brazil and the other to the network of HIV/AIDS studies in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. The delegation also met briefly with Foundation researchers who are part of the collaborative research project between scientists in Rio de Janeiro and San Francisco, USA, on HIV with a focus on a technology-based intervention for young men who have sex with men.
Still within the scope of HIV research, they visited the Laboratory of Clinical Research on STDs and AIDS and the Laboratory of Mycobacteria and Tuberculosis. Next, they went to the Hospital Center.
The delegation was introduced to Vacina Maré, a project that has received CDC funding since its inception and which is an initiative of Fiocruz in partnership with Redes da Maré and the City Hall of Rio de Janeiro with the main goal of estimating the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and the impact of the pandemic on the territory. On that occasion, the results of the work and future perspectives were informed, seeking the continuity of the funding.
Fernando Bozza presented the Vacina Maré project (Photo: Peter Ilicciev)
The Fiocruz researcher who led the studies in the community, Fernando Bozza, explains that the CDC already supported a project that he coordinated and, when the pandemic hit, he applied the Vacina Maré for funding and thus received supplementary funds. “I had the opportunity to present the project to them and they were interested especially in the cohort part. Currently, the CDC fully supports the long COVID-19 cohort”, he says. “The CDC has been a super partner and our idea now is to turn what is the project today into a research platform focused on surveillance, communication and information matters”.
Another project presented to the delegation was the Fiocruz Genomics Network, which gathers experts from all the Foundation's units and partner institutes who are working to generate data on the behavior of SARS-CoV-2 by decoding the viral genome. The initiative received funding from the CDC from 2021 until early 2022, in a defining period of the Gamma variant arrival in the country.
As explained by Marilda Siqueira, head of the Laboratory of Respiratory Viruses and Measles at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC/Fiocruz), the CDC funds were a “true emergency response”. She explains that the funds were mainly directed to expand the initiative's genomic capacity, analysis of the viruses circulating in the country and introduction and distribution of new strains in the country. “It was a very important funding for the establishment of methodologies in several laboratories of the Fiocruz Genomics Network”, says Siqueira. “We are now in discussion for renewal and have submitted a new project to the CDC”.
Another area visited by the group was the Viral Hepatitis Laboratory and the Viral Hepatitis Outpatient Clinic at IOC/Fiocruz, which receive funding from the NIH. As explained by Lia Lewis-Ximenes, researcher at the clinic, the NIH has been funding the project for a few years and these funds were important to help pay for the scholarships, hire the technical team, buy supplies such as rapid tests, help transport the patients, among other benefits. The group also made a brief visit to the Immunobiological Technology Institute (Biomanguinhos/Fiocruz).
The delegation also met with researcher Pritesh Lalwani, of the e Leonidas and Maria Deane Institute (ILMD/Fiocruz Amazônia), where they learned more about the progress of the project that he coordinates on COVID-19. The project, focused on studying the durability of the immune response after booster doses of the vaccine, is a prospective longitudinal study beginning in August 2022 with support from the CDC for one year.