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Originating from Kenya, which has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, Steve Bii is no stranger to the epidemic. As an undergraduate at Oberlin College, Bii's professor and research mentor, Prof. Yolanda Cruz, who knew about his passion for community health told him, “Steve, I think I know someone who would be able to help you help communities in Kenya.” She put him in contact with Dr. Michael Chung, who directs one of TREE’s programs, the Coptic Hope Center in Nairobi, Kenya, where Bii soon volunteered and learned about addressing HIV/AIDS in his home country. In Dr. Lisa Frenkel’s lab at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Bii is helping to bring oligonucleotide ligation assay (OLA), a technique which reduces the cost of testing for HIV drug resistance from approximately $500 to $11 per patient, to Kenyan patients. In another project, he will determine the threshold of mutant virus which leads to antiretroviral drug failure in cohorts of pregnant women with various levels of HIV drug resistance using Illumina sequencing.
While his work in HIV/AIDS comes from a biomedical standpoint, Bii believes, “Treating HIV requires a multi-dimensional approach, in the sense that it’s not just an isolated disease, it affects the individual as well as their families.” He was impressed by how the clinicians and health professionals at the Coptic Hope advocate for their patients in a community where stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS remains strong, and how TREE addresses non-medical aspects of the disease such as providing food banks and conducting home visits. Bii plans on attending medical school in the United States, and also intends to continue engaging in translational research and international partnerships as a global health advocate, practitioner, and researcher. In the meanwhile, Bii takes advantage of his time in Seattle by hiking in the surrounding mountains, biking around the Puget Sound, and playing soccer with the Bandits Club.