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After Losing Grant Funding for My International Research Training Program, Finding Ways to Continue Collaborating in Latin America
There are few scientific fields in which international collaboration is more important than the field of environmental health. Environmental pollution has global effects on the health of populations around the world. What we learn through research studies in one country can illuminate research questions that may apply to other populations.
For more than 20 years, I had a grant from the Fogarty International Center to train scientists in Latin America on research methods in environmental and occupational medicine. With FIC's support, we established very productive collaborations with research institutions in Brazil, Mexico, and Chile. We decided to work in these countries partly because they had a level of scientific infrastructure that could serve as a jumping off point for joint scientific projects.
We provided training and research support for 52 biomedical professionals in those three countries. The program resulted in the publication of numerous research papers, the establishment of two occupational medicine residency programs, in-country summer courses, hands-on workshops for industrial hygienists and other professionals, and many other outcomes. One key feature of our programs is that it aimed to support long-term international collaboration and avoid the potential for brain-drain, the emigration of the highly skilled workforce from those countries.
Years later, many of these scientific collaborations continue, even if my funding for this program does not. Several of the research projects developed by the Latin American fellows continue to yield progress to this day, including several we have published recently. Importantly, these same research fellows are now serving as international research mentors for US students on our study abroad programs, and participate as co-investigators of research projects with our faculty. I would say that the initial investment of training researchers in Latin America has multiplied manyfold and continues to be fruitful, even years after the funding ended.
However, new concerns have emerged about the sustainability of these investments. Cuts in government research funding are fueling a growing crisis in science in Latin America. Our Latin American colleagues are facing cuts in salaries and underfunding that could lead to a brain-drain. For example, a paper published by authors from Argentina and Colombia demonstrated that researchers in those two countries, as well as in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay earn less than the cost of a two-bedroom apartment in their country’s capital. The situation may get worse as research spending in those countries has been reduced to less than 1% of GDP.
There is a high level of research capacity in Latin America, with highly-skilled scientists and some very well respected and productive research institutions. We, scientists in the US, can continue to support research collaborations in Latin America that are cost-effective to advance our understanding of environmental health and other disciplines in which more knowledge is urgently needed. I hope that we don't give up working hand-in-hand with our colleagues in Latin America.
Dr. Luz Claudio is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. She blogs about life in academia and is the author of the book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide, Now Available in Spanish.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.