GW’s HIV/AIDS Institute has become a leader in prevention and education for the disease that currently affects 15,120 people in Washington, D.C.
The institute was founded in 2006 and now includes 80 faculty members throughout the District working in research, education and prevention for HIV/AIDS patients, said Dr. Alan Greenberg, co-founder and co-director of the institute.
“Because of the high rates of AIDS in the District, the institute perceives itself as a critical player in the effort to strengthen research efforts in the District to better understand and respond to the epidemic,” Greenberg said.
The institute, which receives funding from the GW Medical Center, has given more than $210,000 to HIV/AIDS investigators to expand research portfolios, host lectures and establish a continuing education series.
Jennifer Skillicorn, the institute’s executive coordinator, said the institute’s graduate certificate in HIV/AIDS studies is a signature program of the organization that offers courses in public health and epidemiology through the schools of public health and medicine at GW.
“Students are also encouraged to become involved in ongoing research projects related to HIV/AIDS that certificate faculty are involved in,” Skillicorn said.
By creating a community of professionals in this area, the institute has fostered collaborative efforts, furthering research of the disease that affects 3 percent of all District residents, according to the latest D.C. HIV/AIDS epidemiology report.
Ronald Johnson, deputy executive director for the AIDS Action Council, a federal advocacy group for people living with the disease and the organizations that serve them, said 6.5 percent of all black males in the District are living with HIV/AIDS, the highest percentage of any group.
“Nationwide, black people are the most impacted community, “Johnson said. “The most commonly reported mode of transmission among persons living with HIV/AIDS in the District is unprotected homosexual activity.”
Johnson said AIDS Action focuses on preventing new HIV infections, which includes educating young people about the disease.
On GW’s campus, the HIV/AIDS Institute works with campus groups including the GW Student Health Center and GW’s chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC). While there is no actual institute headquarters, Skillicorn and Greenberg’s offices and the administrative offices are housed in Ross Hall.
Senior Melissa Stites, the media and publicity coordinator for SGAC at GW, said the group have worked with the institute to host events on campus, including an HIV/AIDS career panel last semester, where speakers from different organizations in D.C. discussed their commitment to fighting the disease.
SGAC has lobbied members of Congress and protested in front of the White House, on the Hill and in front of pharmaceutical companies. However, they also host awareness and prevention events on campus and distribute free condoms and lubricant from their office in the Marvin Center.
Stites, who joined the group her freshman year, said she believes educating the GW community is important because although the disease is more prevalent in certain populations, “the science behind the infection process does not discriminate.”
“We at GW are living in the city with the highest HIV rates in the nation,” Stites said. “I think the most important part about educating people about HIV/AIDS is creating an open dialogue about the disease and attempting to reduce the stigma. Because the HIV/AIDS rates are so high here in D.C., the members of our organization get the opportunity to make a difference on the ground level.”
This article appeared in the April 23, 2009 issue of the Hatchet.