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In his World AIDS Day address this morning, President Obama said:

“The infection rate here [in America] has been holding steady for over a decade. There are communities in this country being devastated still by this disease. When new infections among young, black, gay men increase by nearly fifty percent in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter. When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups; when black women feel forgotten even though they account for most of the new cases among women, we need to do more.”

Today, to mark World AIDS Day, we’re highlighting Schweitzer Fellows who are doing more.

First, there’s Tiffany Covas and Aldric Jones — whose Schweitzer project that is expanding at-risk North Carolinians’ access to life-saving HIV/STI education and screenings. Partnering with the Forsyth Co. Dept. of Public Health and AIDS Care Services, the duo of Schweitzer Fellows have implemented HIV/STI counseling and testing at the Delivering Equal Access to Care (DEAC) Clinic of Wake Forest School of Medicine:

“When we started medical school, we learned that there was high incidence of syphilis in the community that our medical center serves—especially among the young African-American population,” Jones says. “This was concerning because this group is at a higher risk of contracting HIV as well.”

“Being a part of the black community and growing up in the South, I know how hard it can be for younger people to obtain information about HIV and STIs. I know others my age who have contracted HIV or other STIs, or who delayed getting a test because they did not have the proper information or access to appropriate resources. While I understand that it can be a difficult issue for many people to discuss, awkwardness or discomfort should not hinder a person’s ability to ask questions and get important information.”

Says Covas:

“Our hope is that we put a dent in the HIV epidemic that is happening in our community and motivate other students to consider this important issue wherever they end up practicing medicine.”

Houston-Galveston Schweitzer Fellows Joshua Liao and Revathi Jyothindran share a similar goal. Earlier this year, the Houston Chronicle wrote that the success of Revathi Jyothindran and Joshua Liao’s Schweitzer project — which focuses on linking newly-diagnosed, low-income HIV patients with follow-up care — “[suggests] new solutions for a problem that has been around since the virus emerged as a mysterious killer 30 years ago”:

Dr. Shkelzen Hoxhaj, director of the emergency room at Ben Taub Hospital, where Liao and Jyothindran’s project is based, said 80 percent of newly diagnosed patients sought follow-up care during the project, twice as many as before.

The hospital district already offered information on where to find treatment, and both the district and the city health department try to steer people to medical care.

But Hoxhaj said Jyothindran and Liao made a huge difference through their personal outreach and explanations of why the newly diagnosed should begin treatment.

“We’d like to build on that,” he said.

Additionally, ASF is addressing HIV/AIDS in Africa: our president,  Lachlan Forrow, MD, is also president of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon. Forrow recently met with Gabon’s Minister of Health, Flavien Nziengui-Nzoundou, to discuss current and future collaboration. Nziengui-Nzoundou described the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a “major pathology” in Gabon:

“Gabon has approximately 5.2% seroprevalence, which is enormous for a population of only 1.5 million people. Four months ago, Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba tripled the national budget against HIV/AIDS, implemented free testing and the distribution of free medications, and started construction throughout the entire country for ambulatory treatment centers. We also have a public-private partnership with the Global Fund with a budget of 10 billion CFA [$20 million dollars].”

“AIDS is something you have to tackle at multiple levels—education, prevention, and treatment.”

And that’s true no matter whether you’re in North Carolina, in Houston, or in Gabon.

To read an interview with Aldric Jones, click here.

To read an interview with Tiffany Covas, click here.

To read an interview with Joshua Liao and Revathi Jyothindran.

To read an interview with Lachlan Forrow and Flavien Nziengui-Nzoundou, click here.

 

 

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