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Building public health in Peru

Professor Robert Gilman has spent decades in Peru educating students—and inspiring these future public health leaders.


Sarah-Blythe Ballard, MD, MPH ’10, first met Robert Gilman, MD, in 2008 as a student at the Bloomberg School’s Summer Institute in Tropical Medicine.

Previously a flight surgeon in the Navy, Ballard soon became interested in Gilman's lifesaving infectious disease research in Peru. A year later, she enrolled in the School's MPH program.   

Now a PhD student in International Health—with Gilman as her advisor—Ballard is in Peru doing doctoral research on norovirus and diarrheal disease in children. She credits the research network built in Peru by Gilman over the past 30 years for making her study possible.

Ballard is identifying strains of norovirus that cause severe viral diarrhea in children under five. The aim is to guide vaccine development efforts to prevent diarrheal disease, a top killer of young children in developing countries.

Saul Santivanez“Everybody loves to work with (Bob Gilman),” she says. “He’s one of the leading researchers in tropical medicine, but he makes you feel at ease. Even if you’re a very young researcher he takes your ideas seriously.”

International Health PhD student Saul J. Santivanez, MD, MPH  ’09, (right) is also a beneficiary of the scientific inroads paved by Gilman in Peru. Santivanez, who directs the Peruvian Institute of Clinical and Experimental Parasitology (INPPACE), studies cystic echinococcosis, a parasitic disease that causes cysts in the liver and lungs.

“He tries to drive you,” Santivanez says of Gilman. “If you’re going the wrong way he tries to correct you, so you can get it the right way.”

 —Jackie Powder