University receives grant for HIV research

Providing care for a patient with any terminal illness is a tough job that only a select few individuals are able to handle.

The USF Center for HIV Education and Research is an institution which teaches care providers how best to care for patients with the HIV virus. The center recently received a year-long grant worth $1.79 million dollars to continue with this goal.

Michael Knox, program director and professor of Mental Health, said the goal of the grant is to better train health care providers such as physicians, nurses, and dentists.

“The overall goal is for all health care providers in Florida to know we’re here to provide state of the art care,” he said.

The current grant is the largest ever received by the USF Center for HIV Education and Research.

Knox founded the center in 1988 as a part of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at USF. Since its inception, more than 80,000 care providers have received training.

Knox has done research on mental health and written articles in this field.

“There is a wide variety of mental health needs,” he said. “We are trying to train providers dealing with dying patients to give ethical care.”

While training care providers to deal with the inevitabilities of losing patients, Knox said with current advances in AIDS research and state-of-the-art care, patients are able to live longer, normal lives.

“Because of current medications, a lot fewer patients are dying,” he said. “We reduce the need for the end of life stuff.”

Knox said with the current technology, patients may live 20 or more years with the disease. The main problem, he said, is getting the care to the patients. He said patients should always be aware of their risk level and be tested.

“Some patients show up in the emergency room and die within a couple of weeks,” he said. “People at risk need to know their HIV status.”

Knox said there are two main reasons people should always know their HIV status. He said by knowing early on, a person can receive immediate treatment before the disease gets too far along.

Secondly, a person who knows they are affected can be cautious to not infect others, he said.

Knox said people must be careful not to put themselves in harms way.

“People need to reduce their risk,” he said.

He said the money from the grant will be spent on faculty work time and travel. The center hopes to take advances to areas in Florida where education on the disease and treatment may be low.

“We are specifically targeting rural areas … and providers that serve minorities,” he said.

Knox said these groups that are targeted may not normally receive quality testing or care.

Despite seeking out certain groups, Knox said the common thought that HIV is a homosexual or minority disease is false.

“The statistics don’t bare that out,” he said. “It affects people of all ages … all socio-economic statuses.”

Knox said some people who hold this assumption may be more at risk because they do not take the proper steps and therefore leave themselves at risk.

“They most likely think they’re immune because of their socio-economic status and don’t take proper precautions,” he said.

With approximately 83,000 cases of AIDS reported in Florida, Knox said the state ranks second in the country for AIDS cases. He said the key remains that people be tested.

“People need to know their HIV status,” he said. “Early detection is the key.”

Testing can be done anonymously, Knox said. Even with the current technology, the first step is for each individual to know whether they are positive for the disease and seek treatment.

“It’s on the individual to know their status and seek care,” he said.

The other important aspect, Knox said, is that HIV patients must take the medication that is prescribed. The medications prescribed to treat HIV often provide patients with a rigid daily regimen of pill-taking.

“When you add those complexities, the compliance goes down,” he said.

Knox said a third of patients don’t even fill their prescriptions. Another third fill their prescriptions but do not take them.

These are problems the center hopes to address with this new grant.

In addition to Knox, faculty members John Sinnot and Michael Sharinus, a statewide coordinator for the center, provide leadership for the project.

Within the center is the Florida AIDS Education and Training Center (AETC). The chapter at USF is one of 14 chapters nationwide that works to teach and provide care.

Knox said the center is working in conjunction with the University of Florida and the University of Miami to help teach providers throughout the state.

Through this grant, the AETC hopes to further the goal of helping providers in finding solutions to the current problems in the fight against AIDS. Among these are annual conferences and monthly HIV updates. The AETC also publishes guidelines to the treatment of HIV/AIDS as well as a hotline for primary care providers who have questions concerning HIV.

Knox said in a recent press release he believes the grant given to the center will allow for more primary care providers to be prepared for dealing with HIV/AIDS and be able to more effectively treat the disease.

“The National Center grant will increase the number of primary health care providers in Florida who are able to counsel, diagnose, treat and manage the care of individuals with HIV/AIDS,” he said.