WIRB Advocates for People Living With HIV

An Interview With WIRB, AIDS Walk Presenting Sponsor

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For the third year, WIRB has been the Presenting Sponsor for the South Sound AIDS Walk. In addition to a generous cash sponsorship, they have a staff team that raises funds for the event, and even showed up in tutus last year!

Despite their ongoing support, many people don’t understand what WIRB is and what they do. Jill Rose, PCAF’s Development & Communications Director spoke with David Forster, WIRB’s Chief Compliance Officer, to get a better understanding of WIRB and why they support PCAF and the AIDS Walk.

Jill: What exactly does WIRB do?

David: WIRB stands for Western Institutional Review Board. We oversee research studies involving human subjects and serve in a role as a guardian for the best interests of the subjects involved in research, to be sure research is ethically sound and that studies are designed well and asking good questions. We also work to ensure that risks and benefits are acceptable for subjects, that the consent form is accurate, and that research participants understand exactly what the research involves and their confidentiality is protected, among other things.

Jill: How long has WIRB been around and where are you located?

David: WIRB started in 1968 and was the first Independent Review Board in the US and remains one of the largest IRBs in the world. We offer review services for more than 400 institutions. Our offices were located in Olympia until 2 years ago when we moved to Puyallup.

Jill: Can you give an example of why your services are important?

David: In the 1960s there were substantial abuses of human subjects that participated in drug trials. Independent Review Boards (IRBs) were created in response to this issue and are required by law to prevent those types of scandals from happening again. WIRB and other IRBs help to increase the accuracy and appropriateness of research. Many of the advances that have been made over the years wouldn’t be possible without the research and development of drugs.  In fact, AIDS activists were really involved in fighting for compassionate access to drugs in the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Prior to the AIDS Epidemic, the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) prohibited sick people from getting access to unapproved drugs except by clinical trial. Medications that could have helped people were very hard to access. AIDS activists were dying. Even though they knew at the time that nothing could cure the disease, they valiantly fought for access outside of clinical trials to get the medication that could at the very least ease some of the suffering of those in their community. Their efforts opened the door for more robust programs and improved access to experimental drugs. Since that time, advancements in research and development have improved the lives of many people and increased the number of drugs available today.

Jill: With so many good causes in our community, why does WIRB support PCAF through the AIDS Walk?

David: PCAF’s mission reflects WIRB’s mission, which is to protect the rights and welfare of people involved in research. In essence, our vision is to improve healthcare, and to promote ethical research to improve the human condition. Much of WIRB’s work is related to HIV research, so there is a direct correlation between our organizations. Also, as a large company that is headquartered in Pierce County, we really like the opportunity for local community involvement the Walk provides. Much of our work is national, so having that community connection to our friends, neighbors and other local businesses is important to us.

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Jill: You have a great team for the Walk every year. What makes your team successful and what are the benefits of having a team in the Walk?

David: Having a team provide an opportunity for our employees to get together outside of work and provides a sense of camaraderie that extends and benefits our working relationships. Also, our involvement as a team supports an important cause in the communities where our employees live and work. We dedicate a staff member each year to organize the team, and our employees really get involved and do some great fundraising from their circles of influence. People look forward to the Walk each year–not only fundraising together in the months ahead of the event, but that day as well–it’s a great event filled with positive energy. It’s meaningful to join with so many people who care about HIV and AIDS and to come together for a few hours to make a big impact over the year.

Jill: What else do you want people to know about WIRB’s programs, services or people?

David: Readers might find it interesting that we have an international fellows program where people from around the globe spend several months being trained to do what WIRB does. We have about 6-10 fellows yearly, over 200 since the program began in 2002. Conducted in partnership with the World Health Organization, Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Washington, this training program is for foreign health care professionals who want to learn how to establish or improve review boards in their regions. Through this program we have worked  in more than 70 countries worldwide including Thailand, Ethiopia, China, Peru and Argentina just to name a few.

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PCAF appreciates WIRB’s ongoing commitment and support of PCAF, the AIDS Walk, and our community through its sponsorship.
When you come to the South Sound END AIDS Walk on September 12, look for the WIRB team–I’m sure they will be easy to find–and thank them for the great work they do locally and throughout the world!