Ending an epidemic

Ending an epidemic

UF CARES raises awareness about global killer during World AIDS Week

By Dalia Mousa

When Melissa Scites joined the UF Center for HIV/AIDS Research, Education and Service more than 10 years ago as a clinical research coordinator, there were few drugs available to treat HIV-infected patients, particularly children.

Speaking in the atrium of the College of Medicine-Jacksonville’s Learning Resource Center Nov. 30, Scites described how the UF CARES program participated in several key clinical trials that helped make more medications available. The HIV transmission rate for infants born to HIV-infected mothers was nearly 25 percent at that time. Now it is 2 percent, she said.

“Kids that once weren’t expected to live much beyond school age now have treatment options to manage their disease and give them hope for a bright future,” she said. “It has been exciting, rewarding and humbling to be part of that change, and it is a decision that I’ve never regretted.”

As sunlight filtered through the atrium and the Meachum Clarke and True Purpose singing group belted out inspirational tunes, community and staff members gathered to listen to speakers and celebrate the beginning of World AIDS Week Nov. 30. This year marked the 23rd year, World AIDS Day, part of World AIDS Week, has been observed around the globe. The goal of World AIDS Day is to bring people together to raise awareness about the disease, encourage routine HIV-testing and decrease the continuing stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AIDS was first recognized in 1981. This disease remains a priority for researchers and physicians, who work diligently to end the AIDS epidemic.

Mobeen Rathore, M.D., a professor and chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology, and director of UF CARES, said that World AIDS Day has special significance this year because resources are decreasing.

“We need more advocacy and efforts to keep resources available for our patients. Events like these draw attention to this devastating epidemic,” Rathore said. “When I came to Jacksonville in 1991, it struck me how tremendous the needs of the HIV-infected population were. We worked to create a system of care that did not exist at the time. Since then, we have come a long way in our research efforts and are continuing to improve the care HIV patients receive.”

Scites, now the executive director of UF CARES, said the kickoff event also honors those who work tirelessly every day to ensure people living with the disease have resources, care, treatment, dignity and compassion.

UF CARES held the event, which also featured patient testimonials about how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. As the only comprehensive, family centered program in North Florida and Southeast Georgia that serves adults, adolescents, children and pregnant women who are infected or affected by HIV, more than 1,200 people living with HIV/AIDS come to the center each year. The UF CARES goal is to promote the importance of early HIV detection, counseling, referral, treatment and prevention services.