Student lands grant to further tuberculosis control in Indonesia

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For Philips Loh, the suffering of tuberculosis patients — and the frightening ease with which the disease spreads — was a wake-up call. After working as an intern at a hospital in his native Indonesia, Loh decided to abandon his plans to become a physician and turn his focus to infectious disease prevention. Now the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) doctoral student is helping implement a new TB research and capacity building initiative in Indonesia, for which he won a three-year $420,000 grant.

Loh, who earned a master’s degree at HSPH this spring, developed the proposal as his master’s thesis. It aims to identify risk factors in Indonesia for the spread of multidrug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) tuberculosis. These deadly strains can develop in locations where TB control programs are weak and treatment protocols are not followed correctly. Indonesia has the eighth-highest burden of drug-resistant tuberculosis in the world.

The researchers’ findings will be used to inform the development of better TB control strategies in Indonesia. The work also will funnel much-needed funds into the country’s research infrastructure, improving its capacity to respond to drug-resistant TB outbreaks, Loh said.