MEET LORNA THORPE
Lorna Thorpe was working in Bali in 1994 for the University of Michigan as a USAID Behavioral Fellow on a research study that was trying to understand sexual risk practices among sex workers and their clients. She may not have ever pursued a PhD in Epidemiology, if it wasn’t for a fortuitous chance-meeting with a UIC School of Public Health professor.
Professor Wayne Wiebel was in Bali giving a presentation about AIDS through the help of a translator, when a hand went up and Thorpe – who spoke fluent Indonesian after living in the country for just one year and is also fluent in Chinese – approached him with a colleague to say that the interpreter was not doing the material justice. Thorpe, who now serves as Deputy Commissioner of Health at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, offered to translate the rest of the presentation with her colleague for Wiebel and continued to collaborate with him when he later returned to Indonesia on several occasions to conduct AIDS prevention training targeting sex workers.
“Lorna was really plugged into the scene,” Wiebel said. “She was a wonderful resource and one of the most pleasant people you ever want to meet.”
Thorpe was stationed in Bali for two years. In the first year, she and her colleagues spent much of their time collecting data, interviewing people, and engaging in ongoing education and assistance with clinical needs.
“My job was to interview tourist clients of prostitutes, and I spent most of my evenings in bars and discos, hanging out with the prostitutes,” Thorpe said. “They trusted me, and if they had a potential client, they would signal if they were comfortable with me talking to them. I’d build a rapport and if they were interested in the study, I’d set up an interview for the next day”
To convince Thorpe to come to the UIC School of Public Health, Wiebel told her she could work at the organization he founded called the Community Outreach Intervention Projects (COIP). Based at the UIC School of Public Health, COIP targets drug users in neighborhoods across the Chicago area with an array of public health interventions and research studies.