Record grant for USF HIV research

Florida accounts for nearly 11 percent of HIV patients within the United States. The state also ranks second in the number of pediatric cases of HIV/AIDS. Thanks to more than $14 million in grants given to the USF AIDS Education and Training Center, Michael Knox and his staff will try to lower those numbers.

With the receipt of the grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration, USF will have the funding to provide a higher degree of health care to those with HIV/AIDS in Florida and the Caribbean.

“Research has shown that HIV-infected individuals treated by providers who offer the most up-to-date treatments and practices experience better outcomes and live longer,” said Knox, director of the USF AETC. “Since the first AIDS cases were identified, knowledge of the disease and its treatment has increased exponentially. The new funding will allow the Center to offer the very latest in AIDS education, training and consultation so that the front-line health-care providers can give their patients the best care possible.”

The $14-million grant, the largest ever received by the The AIDS Education and Training Center located in the Louis de la Parte Mental Health Institute, will be allotted over five years.

“The grant award is for a period of five years, which offers the Florida/Caribbean AETC the stability to continue its work throughout Florida and the Caribbean while reinforcing the University of South Florida’s reputation as a premiere research university,” Knox said.

HRSA, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, distributed more than $200 million in grants through the Ryan White CARE Act in the state of Florida in 2004. The grant given to USF is a continued effort to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“HRSA is committed to fighting HIV/AIDS and making a real difference in improving the lives of people suffering with the disease, particularly the traditionally underserved and hard-to-reach populations,” said David Bowman, Director of Communications at the HRSA. “Education is a key component of these efforts. HRSA supports a network of 11 regional centers and over 70 associated sites to make sure care providers have the knowledge they need to train providers to treat people with HIV/AIDS.”

According to Knox, many health care providers throughout the state and in the Caribbean attend to patients with HIV/AIDS but do not specialize in treating the disease. The grant provided by the HRSA will help train physicians to become more proficient in HIV/AIDS treatment.

“Almost five million people become newly infected with HIV each year and almost 100,000 people are currently known to be living with HIV/AIDS in the region of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Knox said. “This is a serious crisis and there is a critical lack of qualified health care providers who can respond to this epidemic. There are many health professionals whose specialty is not HIV, but still include among their patients people living with HIV. Many of these providers practice in areas where there are no HIV specialty doctors, and the majority of their patients are from minority and other underserved populations. The AETC will reach out to such providers to increase their capacity for treating HIV-positive patients.”

Along with the AETC at USF, which Knox founded in 1988, other centers across the United States are striving to train health care providers to treat those with HIV/AIDS.

“Properly trained health professionals make a critical difference in the lives of their patients by helping them to be healthy and successful in managing their disease,” Bowman said. “Through AETCs, over 200,000 individuals have been trained to counsel, diagnose, treat and medically manage individuals with HIV infections and to help prevent high-risk behaviors that lead to HIV transmission. They are able to share new developments in the field of HIV/AIDS care, ensuring that their patients receive the benefits of the latest advances in the field.”

In addition to the $14 million, the AETC received $350,000 from the Florida Department of Health to prevent perinatal HIV transmission. According to Knox, 94 percent of all pediatric HIV cases in the state of Florida occur through perinatal transmission, where the virus is passed through the umbilical cord or during early breastfeeding. Perinatal transmission can be prevented and, if treated properly, the risk of transmission to a child can be reduced to less than 2 percent.

The problem of perinatal transmission is the focus for the USF Center for HIV Education and Research’s Perinatal HIV Prevention Project, which provides education to health care workers, reviews clinical procedures and protocols for HIV-infected pregnant women as well as providing training and technical assistance regarding Rapid HIV Testing.