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AIDS researchers receive $16M grant

A $16 million grant awarded to USF last week will help fund ongoing HIV/AIDS research at the University.

Provided by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the funding will be used to fight a disease Director and founder of the USF Center for HIV Education and Research Dr. Michael Knox says infects about 40,000 U.S. citizens each year.

“Every year in the U.S., we tolerate … new HIV infections, instead of modifying public policy and spending sufficient resources on prevention,” he said. “Young people do not receive explicit prevention information, most jurisdictions ban needle exchange programs and the mass media does not run explicit public service announcements regarding the importance and proper use of condoms. Research conducted over many years and throughout the world has demonstrated that HIV/AIDS prevention programs work.”

The grant, which will be allocated over a five-year period, will ensure that such programs continue, not only in the USF area, but throughout Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands through the Florida/Caribbean AIDS Education and Training Center, developed by Knox and his team from USF’s Department of Mental Health Law and Policy.

The center will provide “state-of-the-art HIV education, consultation and resource materials to health care professionals” in these areas, Knox said, and will sponsor many educational events in the state.

The center’s first conference following the new grant, called “Keeping With the Pace 2010: an HIV/AIDS Update,” is scheduled for Sept. 1 at the Alachua County Health Department Center in Gainesville and will bring in experts from around the state to discuss the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Florida, recent updates in the clinical management of the disease, drug management and how to improve the quality of life in HIV positive patients.

The USF College of Medicine and other in-state universities like the University of Florida, the University of Miami and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University will also use the grant to work alongside the University of Puerto Rico and the University of the Virgin Islands as training sites for health care providers to deliver relief for HIV/AIDS positive patients in the Caribbean area and increase awareness of the disease and the importance of being tested.

According to statehealthfacts.org, their targeted area is one that has been significantly affected by the viruses. AIDS rates in Florida stand at 21.7 percent and Puerto Rico at 21.5 percent — nearly twice the national rate of 12.5 percent.  Rates in the U.S. Virgin Islands are 2.5 times the national rate per 100,000 people — 31.4 percent.

All three areas rank among the top 10 states/territories affected by the epidemic.

“HIV is spread by individual human behavior,” Knox said. “We know which behaviors put people at risk and how to reduce or eliminate these risks. There is no cure for HIV infection and no vaccine. Disease prevention strategies must be aggressively implemented to effectively and efficiently address this epidemic.”

During his 24 years at USF, Knox has secured more than $50 million in grants, most of which has been used for similar HIV/AIDS research. However, he said that is not enough.

“Students should do all that they can to demand an end to the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Knox said. “Every four days, we spend more money to terrorize, kill and injure people there than we spend on HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in a year. Our wars will have a great impact on the quality of life for this generation as the government prioritizes war over education, health care, medical research and the development of alternative energy sources.”