Event Pays Tribute to Pioneers and Newcomers in Fight Against AIDS

Keynote speaker Ilan Meyer, left, of Columbia University, stands with AIDS Health Project Executive Director James Dilley and AIDS Research Institute Director John Greenspan at UCSF's World AIDS Day symposium on Dec. 1.

Members of the UCSF community gathered to reflect on the past, present and possible future of the fight against the devastating epidemic during World AIDS Day.

Many of those who attended a Dec. 1 symposium at Cole Hall were present during the early days of the epidemic, before doctors even knew what to call the virus that began spreading through San Francisco’s gay community in 1981.

“This is a time to remember those we have lost to AIDS, and also a time to reflect on what we have all been through in our fight to mitigate the effects of the disease,” said John Greenspan, PhD, director of UCSF’s AIDS Research Institute (ARI).

For nearly 30 years, UCSF has been on the frontlines of that fight, Greenspan said, noting that in 1983 University clinicians and researchers developed the country’s first outpatient AIDS clinic and inpatient ward at the UCSF-affiliated San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH), an initiative now known as the Positive Health Program. That same year, UCSF professor and researcher Jay Levy, MD, co-discovered HIV along with researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France.

That time period, and UCSF’s prominent role, is the focus of a new documentary that premiered on World AIDS Day at several locations, including Cole Hall. The film, “Life Before the Lifeboat: San Francisco’s Courageous Response to the AIDS Outbreak,” features interviews with doctors and nurses who were there when the disease first surfaced, as well as news-clip montages and pages from dying patients’ journals.

The project was the brainchild of Paul Volberding, MD, professor and vice chair of UCSF’s Department of Medicine and chair of the medical service at San Francisco’s Veteran Affairs Medical Center, who was among the first doctors in the city to treat patients with AIDS and who went on to help establish its first AIDS clinic. Volberding hired Shipra Shukla, who has created several films for UCSF, to direct and produce the documentary.

UCSF Still Plays a Leading Role

When it comes to AIDS research and treatment, UCSF’s reputation for leadership and innovation will likely continue well into the future.

On Nov. 30, the International AIDS Society announced that the XIX International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. UCSF professor Diane Havlir, MD, chief of the HIV/AIDS Division at SFGH, will serve as local co-chair of the conference, which will draw hundreds of the world’s leading AIDS experts.

The conference, known as AIDS 2012, will offer “a tremendous opportunity for partnership and exchange that will further sow the seeds of solidarity among all of us dedicated to ending this scourge,” Havlir said in a press release.

The Dec. 1 symposium also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the AIDS Health Project, a program of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and SFGH that was founded in 1984 to provide prevention and mental health services to those at risk for, or affected by, HIV.

James Dilley

The program has been a pioneer in HIV-related mental health care — an essential service in the face of a disease that carries a psychological and social impact every bit as significant as its physical toll, said executive director James Dilley, MD.

“We have delivered more than 200,000 test results and served tens of thousands of patients over the past 25 years,” said Dilley, who was the first psychiatrist involved with treating AIDS patients at SFGH in the early 1980s.

Disease Still Carries Stigma

That kind of support remains incredibly important as the stigma surrounding AIDS persists, said the symposium’s keynote speaker, Ilan Meyer, PhD, an expert in public health issues related to minority populations, who is based at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

In fact, Meyer dedicated his talk to an unnamed friend who died recently of PCP pneumonia — the most common serious infection among people with AIDS in the U.S. — without ever telling anyone he had HIV.

Meyer’s extensive and ongoing research has shown that prejudice, stigma and discrimination toward individuals with “disadvantaged social status” due to sexual orientation, gender, race or ethnicity can lead to adverse health outcomes, including mental disorders like depression.

In addition, he said, behaviors such as concealing one’s sexual identity can prove harmful by “prevent[ing] individuals from connecting to vital community resources and social support.”

Faculty Receive Awards

The World AIDS Day symposium also included several major award presentations to UCSF faculty members, including:

  • The ARI Mentoring Award, presented to Susan Buchbinder, MD, a UCSF associate clinical professor of medicine and epidemiology, and director of the HIV Research Section of the San Francisco Department of Public Health;
  • The ARI’s Sarlo Award for Teaching Excellence, presented to Harry Lampiris, MD, an associate professor of clinical medicine in the Department of Medicine, Infectious Diseases Section, based at the UCSF Veterans Affairs Medical Center;
  • The UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies’ Jesse Miller Award, presented to Wayne Steward, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at the center, to fund his research of HIV prevention behaviors; and
  • The ARI’s Walter Gray Endowed Chair in HIV/AIDS Science, which will be held by Stephen Morin, PhD, professor and chief of the Division of Prevention Science in the UCSF Department of Medicine, and director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies.

The event was co-sponsored by the AIDS Health Project; the AIDS Research Institute; the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies; the HIV/AIDS Division at SFGH; and the UCSF-Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology (GIVI) Center for AIDS Research.

Photo by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography

Related Links:

AIDS Health Project

AIDS Research Institute at UCSF 

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