Leonardo Martinez, 2017

Leonardo Martinez, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology, evaluates current policy aimed at controlling tuberculosis in areas like Peru, Uganda, and China.

His research strives to increase the effectiveness and reach of these policies by further understanding how the disease spreads.

“My research also tries to understand different methods of involving the community in health programming as a way to implement sustainable policy changes and to foster community and individual empowerment to improve health,” he says.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Over 95% of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. The disease, which is curable, most often affect the lungs and is spread from person to person through the air when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or spit.

Because TB disproportionately impacts the poor, all of Martinez’s research is set in low-income countries – usually in the most impoverished regions in these countries.

“During my master’s degree, I worked with inhabitants of several shantytowns in Peru to measure tuberculosis burden and refer those at high-risk for disease to proper health care,” he explains.

“After this experience, it became my mission to gain more research experience with infected TB patients.”

Martinez cites his advisor, Dr. Christopher Whalen, as a key reason he chose to complete his doctoral degree at the University of Georgia.

“Dr. Christopher Whalen has a long history of working with people at high-risk of developing tuberculosis and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and it was our shared interests that drew me to study at UGA.”

Martinez’s research- based in Kampala, Uganda- is chiefly focused on how tuberculosis spreads from person-to-person in communities that have a high-burden of disease.

“These people are highly exposed to infected people and if we can protect them we may be able to reduce the overall burden in these areas,” Martinez explains.

In order to track the disease, he conducts household surveys concentrating on identifying contacts of infected TB patients.

Martinez has also worked in several hospitals in Nanjing, China, where population growth has led to a large increase in people with the disease.

By understanding better how tuberculosis transmits, Martinez’s research can focus on implementing policy that targets people before they get the disease rather than afterward.

“If we can implement health policy that targets tuberculosis prevention rather treating people who already have disease, we may be able to slow down the spread of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas where tuberculosis is rampant and limiting societal advancement.”

After graduation, Martinez plans to take a postdoctoral fellowship to continue research focusing on tuberculosis and HIV based in Brazilian prisons and in high-risk communities in South Africa.