As we got used to the idea of the lockdown, the masks, and the tense wait for a solution from the specialists, we realized that this was a battle of endurance, not speed. After all, very little was known about the new coronavirus.
Scientists were battling an invisible but ferocious agent away from the cameras and behind the scenes of the most worrisome public health crisis in years.
Researchers like Katya Corado, Ph.D., have spent the past 18 months tackling key clinical and research questions related to COVID-19 prevention and treatment.
A first-generation story
Like so many other immigrants to the United States, Dr. Katya Corado was brought by her parents from Peru when she was ten years old. Her father was confident that by moving to this country, his children could have all the opportunities in the world through education.
“Watching my parents struggle to find their way, learn the language, maneuver a new healthcare system was really eye-opening, and I realized that there is no chance I could squander the opportunity given to me,” Corado told BELatina News.
Knowing her irrefutable calling to work in healthcare, Corado dedicated herself to her high school studies to be accepted into college. Eventually, she got into UCLA’s medical school.
“Being first in your family to do many things in a new country can feel very lonely sometimes, but with each step, my family was my biggest cheerleaders even when they did not understand what I was going through,” she remembers.
The work starts with the community
Once rolled up her sleeves and ready to work, Dr. Katya Corado soon learned that her calling was to work with underserved populations. She quickly realized that she loved infectious diseases, specifically research work with HIV-positive patients.
Corado trained as an internal medicine physician in 2005 and then sub-specialized in infectious diseases in 2011. Since then, she has been practicing as an infectious disease physician.
“I have always been drawn to working with vulnerable populations, and when I would work with HIV-positive patients, many factors came together,” she explains.
Her work with HIV, the virus responsible for the largest public health crisis before COVID-19, opened her eyes not only to a fascinating and dangerous disease but the impact on communities and the stigma it brings.
“HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is a fascinating disease that causes so many problems to the immune system of a person. It does not care what color you are, your gender or sexual preference,” Corado told us. “If you have sex, you can get HIV. I take care of many monolingual Spanish-speaking middle to elderly-aged females in my clinic, people who nobody would suspect have HIV. Their stories are varied, but many were sexually assaulted on their journey to the United States and believe that is how they got HIV.”
The doctor told us how she has witnessed varied, sad stories of resilience and obstacles, where patients carry the diagnosis in shame and loneliness.
“I am there to make sure they are not alone. I want them to be empowered to get their HIV under control and go on to lead normal healthy lives, and even have healthy children should they decide to do so,” the Latina scientist said. “I meet with partners and families to explain HIV and to try to expel the myths that exist surrounding this diagnosis. I also hold people’s hands as they are dying when they come to care too late.”
Another virus enters the scene
Thanks to her work with vulnerable populations and her faculty position at UCLA, Corado has had the opportunity to do clinical research and work on her passion. Part of this research involves finding ways to improve medication adherence and prevention.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dr. Katya Corado has been on the front lines of clinical trials for vaccines and treatments. She is currently part of the national Rise Above COVID movement. This effort aims to find treatments through a clinical trial called ACTIV-2, which focuses on people who have COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms but are not hospitalized.
ACTIV-2 is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, and coordinated by the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG).
“ACTIV-2 studies the use of new medications in the treatment of COVID-19. We are focused on people who have recently been infected with COVID-19, have symptoms of COVID-19, but are not sick enough to be hospitalized,” Corado explained. “If they have been sick for less than ten days, they may be eligible to enter the ACTIV-2 clinical trials.”
The goal is one: to overcome COVID
Considering the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on communities of color, Dr. Corado invites members to participate in Rise Above COVID.
“Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 with higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death. Thus we have to have certainty that the medications work in our communities,” she explained.
Especially with the advent of the Omicron variant, the efforts of doctors like Katya Corado are up against the clock.
“All viruses mutate. COVID-19 is no different. The only way a virus will not be allowed to mutate is if it is not allowed to continue to live or replicate. The only way we can do this is to make sure that the virus cannot enter a community,” Corado explained, “The only way to do this is to have protection through vaccination (or natural immunity if you’ve recovered from the disease) in that community.”
However, the researcher continued, we don’t live in a bubble. In an interconnected world with immense traffic, the problem is the transit of the virus.
“That being said, getting vaccinated, making sure your loved ones, your close circle of friends is vaccinated will protect you and the community from these variants,” Corado added.
And for the Latinas out there….
Dr. Katya Corado wanted to send a message to all Latinas who are still hesitant to follow their vocation and start a career in healthcare:
“We need so many more Latinas to enter the medical field. We need scientists, researchers, nurses, doctors, social workers. When a patient sees their own face in the healthcare professional that is treating them, there is an instant connection of trust,” she said. “As a Latina physician, I do not take this for granted. I work to build trust in the community in order to make sure my patients are able to thrive. I would love to live in a world where the treating doctors reflect the communities they serve.”
“My advice to your young audience is to know that hard work and self-motivation will take you far. You do not have to wait for someone to tell you that you can do it. Go out and try it, make an effort, even if you fail, it is better than not trying.”