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Rakai Health
Sciences Program

History of the Program

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History of the Rakai Health Sciences Program

When scientists at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda hatched the idea of conducting an investigation into the then-mysterious “slim disease” in Rakai district, little did they know that their work would grow into the Rakai Health Sciences Program (RHSP). Nelson Sewankambo, MBChB, MMed, David Serwadda, MBChB, MSc, MMed, MPH, and Maria Wawer, MD, MSc, senior principal investigators of the Program, first met in 1987 when they initiated a small community cohort study. They worked from a tiny rented room at the Milano South-View Inn in Kyotera, Uganda. As Ronald Gray, MD, MSc, Tom Lutalo, MSc, and Fred Wabwire-Mangen, MBChB, MPH, PhD, joined the team of senior investigators, the Program moved into a few rented rooms in a local tin-roofed shop in Kalisizo and initiated a number of much larger community prevention trials and studies.

Today, the Program staff includes just under 400 highly dedicated and energetic principal investigators, multidisciplinary professionals, and support staff who conduct a wide range of reproductive health research and service activities. With a newly-built facility in Kalisizo, Rakai District, the principal investigators and staff have the resources they need to conduct cutting-edge research.


Milano hotel entrance

Milano South-View Inn, where the first meeting took place

Milano Hotel lobby

Milano South-View Inn lobby


RHSP entrance

Entrance to the Rakai Health Sciences Center

RHSP building lobby

Lobby of the new Rakai Health Sciences Program facility

Voices from Rakai

Gertrude Nakigozi

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Most patients who come here perceive themselves to be HIV positive. The majority actually come in to confirm their suspicions. But still there are a few who are surprised by HIV-positive results. We let them know that being HIV positive does not mean they need ARVs. We try to educate them about CD4 counts and tell them they can always come back and receive treatment for any illness. You find a few patients who keep saying, Don’t you think I’m ready for ARVs? Or they plead to have their CD4 counts retested. We resort to ARVs only when we have to.

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Gertrude Nakigozi, MBChB
Coordinator, Mobile Antiretroviral Clinic

Center for Global Health


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Rakai Health Sciences Program

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Uganda Virus Research Institute

National Institute of Health