VIENNA, Austria – The 2010 International AIDS Conference fostered interesting discussion and debate on issues related to HIV/AIDS. One compelling and lively debate focused on the topic of equity in the relationship between researchers from developing countries and those from high-income countries. While noting that each relationship is different and that relationships in general have improved in recent years, it was apparent that tensions underlies many research projects.
The debate highlighted three perspectives – the first two from developing country scientists and the third by a U.S.-based researcher:
• Researchers from developing countries are treated as junior partners who may contribute some of the basic skills and provide the study sites, but they do not run the trials, own the data or interpret or disseminate the results. This scenario is frustrating for researchers in developing countries who wish to be treated as full partners and advance their own agenda to their perception of what their country needs.
• Researchers in developing countries have been building up their skills, knowledge, infrastructure and ability to participate as a full partner; the more they continue adding to their skill sets and ability to drive the agenda and compete for funding, the better partners they will be. Developing country scientists need to (and in many cases do) demonstrate that they have earned a place by engaging in strong collaborations, developing the skills necessary to conduct research and working to build the scientific infrastructure in their country.
• Science needs to be truly global, with projects drawing on skills, settings, resources and people wherever they are. The focus should be less on what developing countries and high-income countries do and more about making use of what is needed to deliver the best project results. We need the best minds and most skilled technical support, regardless of their country of origin.
So, in an overly simplistic sense, we have: “glass half empty,” “glass half full,” and “let’s stop talking about the glass.”
From developing new tools and maximizing the impact of existing ones to improving access to services and promoting behavior change, there are many challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This work requires that we figure out how to move forward in a coordinated manner that maximizes all the resources at our disposal. We also need to mobilize new resources and build alliances with all partners who can contribute.
These ambitions require that we build on strong and positive professional and personal relationships. It sounds easy, but even the best of relationships need care and attention to achieve the desired outcomes.