In this instalment of the CIDG 'Meet the Editor' series, we talk with Dr Nathan Ford, a scientific officer with the Dept of HIV/AIDS and Global Hepatitis Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, and Chair of WHO’s Guidelines Review Committee. Prior to joining WHO in 2012 he worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for 14 years supporting HIV programmes in a number of countries in southern Africa and South-East Asia. He holds a degree in Microbiology and Virology, a Masters in Public Health and Epidemiology, and a PhD in Clinical Epidemiology, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. He has published over 400 peer-reviewed publications and is an editorial adviser for the WHO Bulletin and a member of the editorial boards of JAIDS, JIAS, Tropical Medicine and International Health, and Conflict and Health. He joined the CIDG team in 2014.
Could you describe where you currently work and what you do there?
I work with the WHO, in the Dept of HIV, where I lead and support the development of guidelines. I am also the Chair of WHO’s Guidelines Review Committee.
What is a typical day for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day, and work can range from reviewing evidence to supporting the development of national guidelines. There is also a considerable amount of travel to countries and international conferences. Today I am putting together a list of experts for the next update of WHO's guidelines on HIV service delivery, and preparing the outline for a symposium at an HIV conference in Dakar, Senegal. I also have an editorial task to complete for Cochrane.
What prompted you to work in this area?
I worked for 14 years with the medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an organization that strives to provide quality care in desperate settings affected by multiple, major health challenges. It became obvious that summarized, updated clinical evidence was critical to efforts to improving access to effective medicines and diagnostics.
What are the major challenges that still remain in your field?
Globally, new HIV infections are going down but mortality has flatlined. It is important to continue to find effective interventions to diagnose and treat the major causes of HIV-related mortality. And we still don’t have a cure, so while with current treatment people infected with HIV can live a normal life expectancy, this depends on good long-term adherence and retention in care.
How did you first hear about Cochrane?
Paul Garner's work on assessing the evidence supporting a widely accepted intervention to improve adherence to TB medications (DOTS). He showed that the evidence was in fact very weak, bringing into question an approach that was rather dogmatic.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with Cochrane?
Engaging with Cochrane research groups to provide timely reviews to support WHO guidelines. Recent examples include guidelines on the management of cryptococcal meningitis, and histoplasmosis – two major causes of mortality among people living with HIV.
Who (or what) has been the biggest influence on your career to date?
Eric Goemaere. He has devoted his life to MSF, and set up one of the first HIV treatment programmes in South Africa, at a time when the national government refused to provide treatment. He has taught me – and continues to teach me – the importance of finding the right balance between evidence, action, and activism.
Please list three words you would associate with Cochrane.
Trustworthy. Rigorous. Evolving.
What do you do in your spare time?
Reading fiction, cooking and some sports - it's winter in Geneva at the moment, so I am trying to go skiing most weekends.
The CIDG editorial base is located at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool, UK. The CIDG is led by Professor Paul Garner (Co-ordinating Editor) and Deirdre Walshe (Managing Editor). Over 600 authors from some 52 countries contribute to the preparation of the Cochrane Reviews. They are supported by an international team of Editors, each with topic or methodological expertise.
The CIDG’s main areas of work are on determination of the effects of interventions on the prevention or treatment infectious diseases of relevance to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and neglected tropical diseases. The aims of the CIDG are to impact on policy and research in tropical diseases through the production of high quality and relevant systematic reviews, and to lead developments in review quality improvement and effective dissemination of findings.