Dec/03/2014 | by Dan Musgrave
December 1 was World AIDS Day, which is dedicated to the estimated 34 million people currently infected with HIV and the 35 million who have been lost to it. The numbers are staggering and the realities are complex. To address this complexity, the Missouri Institute of Mental Health (MIMH) takes a multi-pronged approach to the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS including innovative international research via MIMH Director Dr. Robert Paul, local community outreach and education through the Girls Holla Back! HIV/AIDS prevention program, and collaborations with the International NeuroHIV Cure Consortium (INHCC).
The INHCC is a world class team of international researchers that is delving into the biological aspects of HIV infection. The Consortium operates numerous neurological research studies relate to acute HIV infection and cure strategies in Thailand and Africa. Through collaborations with the INHCC, the MIMH “has the opportunity to study HIV in high risk areas, where we can get insight into the earliest signs of infection, sometimes within the first few weeks. It’s an invaluable opportunity to see different strains of HIV with different levels of virulence and their effects on both the brain and body,” he explained.
On a recent trip to Uganda, Dr. Paul met with other members of the INHCC to discuss training members in experimental methodology to ensure consistency in clinical trials. In January 2015, he will be visiting the INHCC research sites in Kenya and Tanzania.
While Dr. Paul was abroad, other MIMH staff members worked locally on addressing HIV through the Girls Holla Back! program.
Girls Holla Back! takes an intergenerational approach to HIV/AIDS prevention by educating both African American adolescent girls and their female caregivers on how to prevent the transmission of HIV and the relationship between HIV and drugs. The eight-week program is designed not only to promote HIV/AIDS and substance use education but also to improve communication among family members about the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and dispel myths that have been promulgated from generation to generation.
“We strive to empower African American females to take responsibility for their own health and wellness and to strengthen familial communication about sexual health in an effort to reduce the number of new HIV and AIDS cases among this population,” said Brendolyn Bailey-Burch, research associate at MIMH and principal investigator for this program. The community based project, which illustrates the MIMH’s dedication to holistic and interdisciplinary solutions to real world problems, has served nearly 1,000 African American females since its inception in 2003. Program sessions run twice a year in March and September.