by Hannah Langley ’21
Last May, Dr. Robert C. Gallo, M.D. ’59 and ’74Hon., and his wife, Mary Jane Gallo, made a generous donation to create a fellowship dedicated to global health and medicine, which will allow Providence College students to develop technology through medical research in impoverished countries.
Dr. Gallo is most well-known for his 1984 co-discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS. At the time, AIDS was a newly developing threat in the United States that was killing thousands of people, and the cause of the virus was unknown. It was due to the research of Gallo and his colleagues that the cause of AIDS was detected which prevented future infection by developing a blood screening test, which prevented the spread of future infections by blood transfusion. He is also responsible for discovering HTLV, one of the only known viruses proven to cause leukemia. He used this research to create a therapy that is still used to treat certain cancers and AIDS.
Gallo is the co-founder and director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and he is the director of the Global Virus Network (GVN). In 2013, he was named the Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine.
The idea of a global health fellowship program was initiated by Dr. Charles Toth, chair of the biology department. “I started working on this in 2009 after I had Dr. Gallo visit my HIV class,” Toth said. Following this, he formed a group of professors who all had extensive knowledge and backgrounds in global health, including Dr. Nicholas Longo, professor of global studies and public and community service studies, Dr. Tuba Agartan, associate professor of health policy and management, Dr. Terence McGoldrick, associate professor of theology, and Dr. Stephen Mecca ’64 and ’66G, professor of physics.
Earlier this year, Gallo decided he would use his career and success to benefit his alma mater’s current students aspiring to help those in need of medical assistance, and help Toth’s idea come to fruition. With Gallo’s support, about $185 million was raised to fund the fellowships. This money then went to the Office of Institutional Advancement, which works with alumni, students, and others to “build, cultivate, and steward relationships, as well as secure the necessary resources and financial support to enhance the PC student experience,” according to the College’s website.
The fellowships will take place each summer, beginning this year with a trip to Ghana led by Mecca. The current plan for the two-week trip is that students and Mecca will set up an electronic health portal, which will allow for health workers in Ghana to access information more efficiently, and an AIDS hospice. Commenting on the effect the fellowship will have on students, Mecca stated, “Our hope is that the new Gallo Fellows will be impacted by their first-hand experience with health conditions and practice in the developing world in a way that influences their course of study and practice in the health and allied health professions.”
While this summer will be in Ghana, future fellowships will take place in many different countries. “Dr. Gallo has promised he would help arrange fellowships with his world-wide clinics,” said Toth, “giving the students multiple sites to go to.”
The trip is open to students of various majors, which is one of the reasons why Toth likes it so much. “The fellowship is open to everyone,” said Toth. “It provides an opportunity for majors in biology, global studies, public health, public and community service, theology, and the list goes on.” Toth hopes that this fellowship will allow for students of many different majors to blend together in the pursuit of helping others. Dr. Gallo has the same hope for this program. In an interview with Debbie Hazian, Gallo mentioned, “It’s nice that this is not just for science majors… We need people from all kinds of fields to fight these diseases.”
Dr. Toth talked about his excitement about the fact that his nearly 10-year plan has finally become a reality. “There’s so much interest in global health by PC students,” Toth said, “and I think it’s going to be a really attractive program.”