An AIDS education center housed at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health secured a $10.7 million federal grant that will fund the group for the next four years.
Pennsylvania is 10th on the list of the states with the most diagnoses of HIV and AIDS in the U.S., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though infection rates have declined since the disease’s peak in the late 80s and early 90s, data show rates are starting to creep upwards, especially in specific groups.
The Pennsylvania/MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center trains other health professionals on the care of those with HIV/AIDS and impresses upon them the importance of recommending an HIV test to patients. The center has seven other sites, including the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Virginia Commonwealth University and Johns Hopkins.
“One of the highest groups of new HIV infection is among young, minority men who have sex with men,” said Linda Frank, the center's executive director and associate professor at Pitt Public Health. “It’s a big problem now, so there (are) a lot of programs that are focusing on getting to the younger folks to make sure that they understand prevention.”
It’s not just the “younger folks,” Frank said. Infection rates are also rising among people 50 years and older, among other outliers.
“HIV does not discriminate in any way – by age, by race/ethnicity, by gender – everybody is at risk,” she said.
Frank said disease maintenance and prevention are among the center's top tasks, both a far cry from the center’s beginning in the early days of the AIDS epidemic when there was no treatment and work focused almost entirely on issues of death and dying.
“When I first started working, people were not living very long once they were diagnosed. We now having people who have been living for 20 years, 25 years, because of these medications,” she said. “The sooner that somebody is linked into HIV treatment and gets on medication, the better their clinical outcome is going to be.”
The center's funding, provided primarily through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also includes contributions from the Ryan White Program and federal support from the Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of HIV/AIDS.