Spotlight: Interview with Ukrainian Alumni Trainee Yuliia Sereda!
Yuliia was 1 Year Certificate Student with our program from 2012 to 2013. Since her training she has established herself as an independent research consultant for many important HIV research projects in Ukraine. In this interview she reflects on her training experience with Fogarty-funded NYS-ITRP program, its impact on her career, and describes some of the current challenges in the HIV treatment cascade in Ukraine.
In this interview she reflects on her training experience with Fogarty-funded NYS-ITRP program, its impact on her career, and describes some of the current challenges in the HIV treatment cascade in Ukraine.
What motivated you to pursue training through the Fogarty New York State International Training and Research Program?
What was your position before your training with NYS-ITRP?
Before the Fogarty Program, I gained some experience in HIV / AIDS research as a scientific associate at the Ukrainian Institute for Social Research. Despite being involved in projects related to HIV, I didn’t have a formal education in this field. At the time of application, I completed a PhD in sociology in Ukraine and was looking for ways to pursue my carrier. Luckily, I met representatives of the Fogarty Program at a workshop on publication writing, which they held in Kyiv, Ukraine. Training in public health and biostatistics looked promising and motivating. So, I decided to apply for it. My decision to apply was particularly inspired by Dr. Jack DeHovitz, the Program Director, who was at the workshop and helped me understand that this is the right program for me.
Can you tell us what you remember about your experience while training in Albany?
It was my first of experience of long-term training abroad and I was not familiar with a system of U.S. higher education. First, I was surprised to find that taking four courses per semester is considered as a full-time schedule. In Ukraine, we usually have about ten courses per semester. However, don't be fooled by a “small” number of courses. It takes a lot of effort to complete them!
The approach to learning is completely different. Each course is delivered very deeply and the main focus is on independent work rather than lectures. Thus, it requires good time-management and self-organization skills. In addition, the training is very practical. During my training, I met many lecturers who were both academic professionals and practitioners, such as representatives from the New York State Department of Health. Assignments often included tasks relevant to my current job, in particular writing advocacy documents or presenting results of statistical analysis for non-specialists.
In Ukraine, I moved straight from a bachelor’s to a master’s and PhD degree. Doing a Fogarty training after getting a real job experience helped to broaden my viewpoint in terms of the area of study and how it fits into the world in a practical context. Now, I truly understand the value of life-long learning.
What is the focus of your current work? How did the Fogarty New York State International Training and Research Program prepare you for what you are doing now?
I was involved in different sociological studies related to economics, social security or healthcare before the training. As a result of the Fogarty Program, I’m focused solely on public health now. Fogarty training was extremely important for building and improving my confidence in public health research. Both epidemiology and biostatistics courses were helpful for my current tasks. Moreover, the Fogarty Program provided the opportunity to meet people with similar background and create a network with them.
Last year, I worked as an Independent Consultant for Deloitte under the USAID HIV Reform in Action Project, UNDP, UNICEF, Alliance for Public Health and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. My role requires me to conduct research, utilize statistical models and prepare reports as well as to present findings to diverse stakeholders for policy development purposes. I managed research projects and analyzed data within the wide framework of study designs, such as desk research, bio-behavioral surveys, intervention trials and routine surveillance.
While at Deloitte as a Consultant, I managed analysis related to identification of demand and current capacities in human resources for health in HIV/AIDS care and developing scenarios addressing the gap that take into account Ukraine’s health system and reform strategies. Now, I’m a part of research team in the Alliance for Public Health, Ukraine trying to improve HIV case-finding in Ukraine by implementing mechanized algorithms in community-based HIV screening of key populations. The idea is to develop a decision-making tool for improving recruitment strategy, such as distributing more coupons for HIV testing to participants with high probability of recruitment of people living with HIV. My role was to test different algorithms on available recruitment datasets. I presented preliminary findings at IAS Conference in Amsterdam (July, 2018).
Along with research, I design and deliver workshops on data analysis and visualization. As an Alliance for Public Health Consultant, I was responsible to implement a multi-modular training program to address HIV/AIDS research aspects in Ukraine where over 50 regional- and national-level specialists improved their skills on data collection, monitoring and evaluation, and data analysis. Last year, I joined the team of SORT IT (Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative) facilitators providing workshops on operational research related to tuberculosis in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This year, I designed and delivered an elective course “Healthcare Analytics” for students of Master of Business and Management in Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics (MBAI) program at Kyiv School of Economics, Ukraine.
Have you received awards or grants since completing your training? If so, please tell us about them.
Since completing the training, I received several travel grants to present findings of my research and deliver workshops at international conferences, such as the 20th AIDS International conference in Melbourne (2014) and IAS Conference in Amsterdam (2018). Now, I’m a part of the team working within the NIH grant “SCRIPT: Stigma, Risk Behaviors and Health Care among HIV-infected Russian People Who Inject Drugs” (Project #1K99DA041245-01A1, PI: Karsten Lunze, Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA, United States). I also consult on a PEPFAR grant on optimized HIV case finding in collaboration with the Alliance for Public Health. I also work on an USAID funded project as a Consultant for Deloitte on situational analysis about human resources for health in Ukraine.
What was the hardest part about living in the US? In Ukraine?
The hardest part was to adjust to the specific of U.S. higher education. The environment is very competitive and might be stressful. There was no “second chance” policy for students passing exams when a student receives unsatisfactory results. It was strange to live in a small city (Albany, New York State) after being a country capital resident. It wasn’t so much about being abroad that was challenging, but being in a town that was significantly less “happening” than where I came from. Though, it was beneficial as you face less distraction from studies. Finally, food preferences had to be adjusted. Finding organic or natural food was more difficult than in Ukraine.
I didn’t have a reverse cultural shock after returning back to Ukraine. Perhaps, one year of living abroad was not that much to feel isolation and alienation. It was easy to find a job after the training and feeling enthusiastic about sharing my acquired competences.
What is unique about the HIV epidemic in Ukraine and what specific challenges do you face in your field?
A notable amount of HIV-related papers about Ukraine start with a fact that the country has the largest HIV epidemic in Europe concentrated among people who inject drugs, sex workers and males who have sex with males. Due to significant investments in the HIV response, both international and local, the HIV prevalence was stabilized. However, stabilization of the prevalence does not necessarily mean that the epidemic is fully under control. There are still significant gaps along the HIV cascade. Considering that estimated PLWH population is about 244,000 in Ukraine, it is necessary that additional 83,000 PLWH be identified and registered with health care services to reach the first 90% target (90% of PLWH are aware of their status), and it is necessary to enroll over 99,000 PLWH in ART to reach the second 90% target (90% of PLWH who aware of their status receive treatment).[YS1] [i] The share of international funding on HIV response is still substantial, in particular for prevention services. Although the country plans to gradually transition from the Global Fund’s support. HIV response is also complicating by the armed conflict in Donbass, Eastern region of Ukraine started in 2014.
Most of HIV-related research in Ukraine is funded by international donors. It’s both a challenge and an advantage. Taking into account community of HIV researchers in Ukraine, I’d say, it’s an example of a “concentrated expertise”. The Fogarty Program made a significant contribution to this expertise by increasing the network of high quality, trusted researchers. The quality of research, strategic documents and the speed of political decisions related to HIV response is often better than in other healthcare domains. For example, the Fast-Track Commitments were internationally introduced in 2016. Ukraine adopted the Fast-Track Targets and its HIV sustainability strategy at the beginning of 2017 in the national legislation. Nevertheless, there is still no operational strategy or action plan for diabetes which is the seventh most important cause of years living with a disability in Ukraine.
What are some of your future career plans?
I will continue to work as a freelance researcher in Ukraine, in particular in HIV research. I’d like to broaden my experience by consulting for projects in other countries, such as working with data from different epidemic contexts and policies. In addition, I’m excited about getting more education related to machine learning and artificial intelligence in healthcare.
[i]The USAID HIV Reform in Action. HIV Investment Case Study for Ukraine: Evaluation of Program Costs, Service Quality, and Resource Allocation for HIV Expenditure in 2015. Kyiv: HIVRiA, 2018.
[YS1]The USAID HIV Reform in Action. HIV Investment Case Study for Ukraine: Evaluation of Program Costs, Service Quality, and Resource Allocation for HIV Expenditure in 2015. Kyiv: HIVRiA, 2018.