USF helps HIV/AIDS conference

Not too far away, a brutal war wages, and the death toll rises constantly. But this is no foreign affair, no Iraqi battle — this is a war against HIV/AIDS, and it’s much closer to home.

On Sunday, researchers from across the country, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, will meet in Miami for the 15th National HIV/AIDS Update Conference. The conference is the combination of two conferences from different states. The National HIV/AIDS Update Conference (NAUC), which met in San Francisco for the past 14 years, was sponsored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) but will now be co-sponsored by the Florida/Caribbean AIDS Education and Training Center (AETC), based at USF. This is AETC’s first conference in Miami, but for the past 12 years, it sponsored the Annual Florida HIV Conference in Orlando. This year’s combined conference means a larger crowd and a better exchange of HIV/AIDS information.

“We expect 2,000 participants. There are people coming from everywhere, just about every state,” said Michael Knox, director and distinguished university professor for the USF Center for HIV Education and Research.

Though USF co-sponsors the conference, Knox said it is being held in Miami because of its international relations.

“It’s important to draw national attention to the epidemic in South Florida,” said Dr. Mervyn Silverman, the conference chairman. “Miami has the second highest rate of HIV of any metropolitan area in the nation . . . . Bringing (the) National HIV/AIDS Update Conference to Miami reflects an understanding of the challenges faced by everyone who deals with HIV and AIDS on a daily basis.”

The conference is especially pertinent in Florida, which was second in the United States in pediatric and female AIDS cases in 2002. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Florida had 12 percent of newly reported AIDS cases in America in 2002.

Knox said, as the co-sponsor, USF is providing “faculty, publicity to all HIV care providers in the Florida/Caribbean area and will serve as conference host.”

“Dr. Martha Friedrich and Ms. Kim Alfonso of the USF Center staff serve on the planning committee, which put this conference together,” Knox said.

The AETC is based as the USF Center for HIV Education and Research at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute and receives a $3.2 million grant annually from the United States Health Resources and Services Administration. But this money actually does not go to fund conferences; instead it goes to train healthcare providers to treat HIV.

“Our mission is to ensure that physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and other clinical providers receive state-of-the-art information, training and consultation on new and emerging treatments for HIV/AIDS,” Knox said.

“The grant pays for clinical consultation and intensive specialized training,” Knox said. AETC also funds faculty at the University of Florida, the University of Miami, University of Puerto Rico, Florida A&M University and the University of the Virgin Islands.

“There are many complex issues faced by clinicians in the day-to-day care of HIV-infected patients,” Knox said. “Our AETC faculty will share insights on issues such as HIV treatment guidelines, new medications, when to start HIV therapy, drug-resistant viruses and managing side effects.”

Knox said 10 USF professors will present their research at the conference. Also, more than 60 workshops will be offered for participants in the areas of HIV prevention, treatment, care and services, the epidemic proportions of HIV/AIDS and mental health, as well as other areas. The conference runs from March 30 through April 2.