In April through July 2017, Christine Sekaggya-Wiltshire, MD, physician at Mulago hospital and educator at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, came to the University of Cincinnati as part of the American Society of Hematology’s Visitor Training Program (VTP) to learn more about hematologic diseases and maybe try the city’s famous chili. The 35-year-old Sekaggya-Wiltshire is in charge of the integrated HIV and tuberculosis clinic at Makerere’s Infectious Diseases Institute and the hematology unit at Mulago National Referral Hospital. Additionally, she is a research fellow in pharmacokinetics of antituberculosis drugs in HIV infected patients at the university.
How did interest in your two main research focuses—HIV and cancer—develop? Is there overlap in research surrounding these two subjects?
"Uganda has a high prevalence of HIV. Over 50 percent of the patients I see in our national referral hospital are HIV infected. HIV has affected the presentation of several diseases including cancers. Certain cancers now occur more frequently in HIV infected patients especially lymphomas. Lymphomas may have symptoms similar to tuberculosis and other infectious diseases we often see in Uganda. My interests were driven by what I see on the wards I work on and the link between these disease conditions."
How did you learn about the VTP? What interested you about it? What was the application process like? What did you think when you were first assigned to come to Cincinnati?
"I heard about the VTP from the American Society of Hematology (ASH) website. A colleague of mine also went through this program a few years ago, so this made it easier for me to get more information. I wanted a short and targeted training so this was appropriate. I could learn the skill that I actually wanted to learn and put into practice. The application process was straightforward. ASH helped me find a mentor, who happened to be in Cincinnati, and since I did not know anyone in the U.S. who could be a mentor in this area, this was very helpful. A long complex application process can be a deterrent, but this wasn’t the case for ASH. I knew Cincinnati was somewhere in the middle of the U.S., but I had to pull out a map to see exactly where. I had visited several big cities in the U.S. over the years but had only heard of Cincinnati.”
How long did you spend at UC and what were your primary duties here? With whom (in whose lab) did you work primarily? What were some of your favorite experiences?
"I was at UC for three months, from April until July. I spent most of my time in the hematopathology laboratory reading bone marrows, peripheral blood films, protein electrophoresis, hemoglobin electrophoresis and flow cytometry. I worked closely with Dr. Julianne Qualtieri in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, who was an amazing mentor, one of the best I have had. Every day was exciting, especially when I looked down the microscope and got to see something new. It was a good feeling when I began to get the diagnosis right on my own.”
How will your experiences at UC help with your work back in Uganda?
"I learned a lot about clinical and laboratory diagnosis of hematological diseases, and I can apply this directly to my day-to-day clinical practice. We experience a lot of diagnostic dilemmas in our hospital in Uganda because of limited facilities, therefore clinical acumen and targeted investigations like bone marrow biopsies are important. These are skills I was able to learn and enhance under the guidance of Dr. Qualtieri at UC.”
What would you tell others in the VTP who may be assigned to Cincinnati?
"I would tell them to learn as much as possible in the period they have and make the most of it. There is a lot to learn (at UC) and there are people willing to facilitate that process.”
Did you try the chili? And what were some of the interesting cultural things about our community that you experienced?
"I tried the chili, although it did not really taste as hot and spicy as I expect chili to be. :)
"I found the people very nice and friendly. Dr. Qualtieri and Karen Ramos from the UC Cancer Institute's international office kindly welcomed me into their homes, made sure I was comfortable and showed me around. I enjoyed the calmness of the city and the variety of restaurants that were there. It’s definitely a place I would visit again.”