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Our People at Johns Hopkins University

Click here to meet our people working in Uganda.

Maria J. Wawer, MD, MHSc – Senior Principal Investigator

Maria WawerDr. Wawer is a Professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Public Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Wawer received her MD degree from McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, her MHSc from Toronto University, and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 1984. She has 25 years of experience in the implementation, conduct, and analysis of complex epidemiological studies in developing country settings. Along with Drs. Serwadda and Sewankambo, Dr. Wawer initiated the Rakai Project (now named the Rakai Health Sciences Program) in 1988.  Since then, she has been principal investigator on eight Rakai-related NIH R01s and U01s (including the original NIH R01 “HIV Dynamics, Rakai, Uganda” which established the Rakai community cohort study). She has also served as co-principal investigator on three other NIH grants for Rakai, and as principal investigator on Rakai grants from the WHO, World Bank, and numerous foundations. She is currently principal investigator on the NICHD-funded R01 “ARV effects on HIV epidemiology and behaviors, Rakai, Uganda” and on the Gates-funded “Trial of male circumcision: HIV, STD and behavioral effects in men, women and the community, Rakai Uganda” as well as co-principal investigator on the NIAID-funded "Randomized Trial of Male Circumcision". Within the Rakai Project, she has helped develop epidemiologic studies and large community-based HIV prevention trials, which incorporate intensive home-based sample and data collection procedures. She has served on multiple WHO, NIH, and other scientific advisory groups in the areas of HIV and STD prevention. 

Visit Dr. Wawer's faculty page.  

Ronald H. Gray, MD, MSC – Senior Principal Investigator

Ron GrayDr. Gray is the Robertson Professor of Reproductive Epidemiology in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and has joint appointments in the Departments of Epidemiology and International Health. He is also Director of the STD Core in the JHU NICHD Population Center and an Adjunct Professor in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Since 1994, Dr. Gray has been co-principal investigator of the Rakai Project. He was co-investigator on the "Rakai STD Control for AIDS Prevention Study", and the "Maternal Infant Supplementary Study (MISS)", and principal investigator on an NICHD R01 to assess the effects of HIV on fertility in Rakai. He is the principal investigator on the NIAID-funded "Rakai Trial of Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention". In addition to his research with the Rakai Project, Dr. Gray has been principal investigator on numerous international epidemiological studies of reproductive and perinatal health, including cohort studies of reproductive outcomes associated with in utero or lactational exposure to steroid contraceptives (Thailand); studies of low birth weight, prematurity and perinatal mortality (Sudan, India, Brazil and Pakistan); multicenter prospective studies of pregnancy outcome associated with timing of conception (Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, USA); prospective endocrinological research on lactational infertility (Philippines and US); WHO multinational contraceptive clinical trials and studies of PID and genital tract cancer; and on retrospective and prospective investigations of reproductive health among male and female workers in semi-conductor manufacturing. Dr. Gray has initiated innovative data and sample collection methodologies in community-based epidemiological trials in developing country settings and has collaborated in developing statistical analyses for complex cluster randomized community trials. 

Visit Dr. Gray's faculty page.  

Thomas S. Quinn, MD – Director, ICER Uganda; Co-Investigator

Thomas QuinnDr. Quinn is Senior Investigator in the International AIDS Research Laboratory at NIAID, a Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and has joint appointments at the School of Nursing and in the Departments of International Health and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Quinn has been a Rakai Project co-investigator since 1994 and has collaborated intensively on the "Rakai STD Control for AIDS Prevention Trial", developing novel laboratory methods for STD/HIV testing in community-based trials, including application of PCR and LCR for the diagnosis of multiple STDs from urinary, vaginal swab, genital ulcer swab, and infant eye swab samples. Dr. Quinn is also principal investigator of the ICER (International Center of Excellence in Research) awarded to the Rakai Project as of 2004 by NIAID/Division of Intramural Research. He has extensive experience with international and domestic HIV research, and his laboratory, a WHO Reference Center for viral quantification methods, has established RT-PCR and NASBA assays for HIV RNA and PCR for HIV DNA.

Visit Dr. Quinn's faculty page.  

Steven J. Reynolds, MD, MPH – Scientific Director, ICER Uganda; Co-Investigator

Email Steven ReynoldsDr. Reynolds is a staff clinician at NIAID and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Reynolds is an Infectious Disease physician posted full time in Uganda as the Scientific Director of the International Center of Excellence in Research. Before joining the Rakai team, he worked in India on a number of HIV epidemiological studies and clinical trials of vaginal microbicides.

Visit Dr. Reynolds' faculty page.     

Heena Brahmbhatt, MPH, PhD – Co-Investigator

Email Henna BrahmbhattDr. Brahmbhatt is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a Rakai Program co-investigator. She received her MPH and subsequently her PhD in Population Dynamics/Epidemiology from JHSPH in 2001. Her area of research was assessing risk factors of mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) and long-term survival of children born to HIV-positive and HIV-negative mothers. She is principal investigator on a CFAR study assessing the risk of MTCT associated with maternal placental malaria, funded by the Malaria Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Brahmbhatt is also co-principal investigator on a NIDA study evaluating a three-component injecting drug use intervention in Delhi, India, and a principal investigator on a NIH funded study of Morbidity/Mortality and Disability in Children in Rakai, Uganda.

Visit Dr. Brahmbhatt's faculty page.  

Jennifer Wagman, MHS – Ethnographic Researcher

Jennifer WagmanMs. Wagman completed her MHS in Behavioral Research in the Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is currently pursuing a PhD in the department of Population,Family and Reproductive Health.  Between 2001 and 2006, she was the resident qualitative research scientist with the Rakai Program, living full-time in Rakai District. She has assisted with extensive training in focus group, in-depth interview, and rapid ethnographic assessment methodologies for the Rakai Project Ethnographic Team; and has overseen the implementation of qualitative research on multiple topics, including male circumcision, domestic violence, attitudes and beliefs regarding HIV counseling, and testing. Ms. Wagman is currently principal investigator on a WHO study on the prevention of domestic violence and was the Rakai co-principal investigator on an NIH-funded study of research benefits in developing country settings (PI: Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel,  Chair, Dept of Clinical Bioethics, Warren G. Magnuson Center, NIH). 

Changchang Xiao, MS – Senior Research Assistant

Changchang maintains the extensive longitudinal data sets for the Rakai Program, assists in data management and in the preparation of data sets for analyses, and oversees the archival storage of Rakai Program biological samples stored at Johns Hopkins. Changchang also coordinates and oversees the shipping of samples from Uganda and from the JHU Rakai Program archive to other laboratories for specialized testing.    

Xiangrong Kong, PhD – Statistician

Xiangrong KongDr. Kong joined the School of Public Health as an Assistant Scientist in February 2009. She received her PhD in Biostatistics from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008. She also holds a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the Beijing University of Technology. Mrs. Kong is working with Michael Chen and Ugandan statisticians on data analysis of Rakai studies. She is currently a PI on a study titled "Male Circumcision, risk compensation and the role of intensive health education and VCT on HIV prevention in Rakai, Uganda" funded by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Global Health.

 Chelsea Bernhardt Polis, PhD – Postdoctoral Fellow

Chelsea PolisDr. Polis is a postdoctoral fellow with the Rakai Health Sciences Program.  She received her undergraduate degree in Medical Anthropology at Brown University, and her PhD in Reproductive Health the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Her dissertation research investigated the effect of hormonal contraceptive use on the rate of HIV disease progression among women in Rakai.  Dr. Polis has explored such topics as the influence of sexual violence on abortion-seeking, the impact of abortion on long-term mental health, the effect of circumcision on sexual pleasure, and the accessibility of emergency contraception in Catholic Hospitals.  She has published several systematic reviews and meta-analyses, including a Cochrane Review assessing the effects of advance provision of emergency contraception.  As a postdoctoral fellow with the Rakai Health Sciences program, she plans to investigate the intersections between fertility, contraception, and HIV, and to improve and expand family planning services in Rakai, Uganda.

Barbra N Sekasi – Senior Program Coordinator

Barbra Sekasi is the newest edition to the Hopkins Rakai team, joining us from National Institute of Health housed at the Rakai Health Sciences Program in Uganda.  She is an administrative management professional , who has earned a Masters of Business in Public Administration at the University of Phoenix and a Master of Science in Human Resource Management from Makerere University in Uganda. She serves as a liaison between JHU administration and RHSP. She maintains IRB records and is responsible for grant  and program management activities.

Taryn K Myers – Research Program Coordinator

Taryn Myers joined the Rakai Health Sciences Program in November 2009.  She works closely with staff in coordinating travel and supply shipments for the Rakai team, as well as grant development and submissions for Drs. Gray and Wawer.  She also provides support to the Ugandan students traveling to the U.S. for additional coursework at Johns Hopkins University. 

Voices from Rakai

Theopista Namanda

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It is my fifth day here [in a mobile clinic set up in a private home]. Yesterday, I treated more than 70 people. I’m just alone here, listening, diagnosing and dispensing medications. You do the work of three people. We rent someone’s home on a daily basis and use as a clinic. The main cases we see are malaria, worms, arthritis, painful joints, respiratory tract infections, genital ulcers, even peptic ulcers and syphilis. The commonest [condition] is malaria. We treat with chloroquine and Panadol [acetaminophen]. We treat coughs, worms and anemia as well. I enjoy my work. I feel happy helping people.

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Theopista Namanda
Nurse and Researcher

Center for Global Health


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Rakai Health Sciences Program

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Uganda Virus Research Institute

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