UPMC Supports Effort to End AIDS in Allegheny County

By: Allison Hydzik and Tim Betler

today, on World AIDS Day, threw its support behind AIDS Free Pittsburgh, an initiative to end AIDS and significantly reduce new HIV infections in Allegheny County by 2020.

The initiative was announced this morning by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald ahead of a unanimous City Council vote supporting the effort. UPMC is giving about $1 million to AIDS Free Pittsburgh over the next five years.“Achieving an AIDS-free county in five years is an ambitious, but we believe achievable, initiative, and UPMC is proud to be a collaborator,” said Steven D. Shapiro, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer for UPMC. “This initiative is especially timely because, unfortunately, we have observed a recent increase in new cases of HIV infection in the county. We must now expand and intensify our efforts to rid our region of HIV.”

UPMC is uniquely positioned to support HIV/AIDS efforts because several of its clinicians and researchers in the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences are among the world’s foremost experts in the virus. Sharon Hillier, Ph.D., director of reproductive and infectious disease research at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, leads the multimillion-dollar National Institutes of Health-funded Microbicide Trials Network to prevent HIV. John Mellors, M.D., director of Pitt’s HIV/AIDS Program, is conducting pivotal trials on new antiretroviral medication. Both efforts are critical to the world’s quest to eradicate HIV.

The University of Pittsburgh is also home to the Pitt Men’s Study, one of four sites for the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, an NIH-funded study that has run for more than 30 years, giving valuable insight into the spread and treatment of HIV and providing the basis for more than 1,300 peer-reviewed scientific publications.

The UPMC AIDS Center for Treatment in Oakland cares for about 1,700 patients, and UPMC has integrated HIV care into primary care clinics in the community. UPMC clinicians are dedicated to the latest in HIV testing and care, which includes treating the whole person, not just the virus. The virus has been successfully suppressed in nearly 85 percent of UPMC’s patients, which keeps them healthy and significantly reduces the chance of them spreading HIV.

Preventing the spread of HIV is key to achieving an AIDS-free Pittsburgh. UPMC has recently opened clinics to provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for uninfected people who do not have HIV but are at high-risk of contracting it.

“Our goal, with AIDS Free Pittsburgh, is to reduce the number of new HIV infections and at the same time make sure that everyone who has HIV knows their status and knows exactly where to go and get care,” said Dr. Hillier. “HIV can happen to anyone. But with PrEP and good health care, we really can have an AIDS-free city and county.”

To learn more about AIDS Free Pittsburgh, visit the initiative on Facebook or follow it on Twitter.