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With Pencils and Drones, Architects Put Informal Cities on the Map

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News
01-09-17-informal-cities-390CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 09, 2017)—The children play soccer barefoot on a dirt field, and when they aren’t imitating the flamboyant striking and passing skills of their country’s greatest footballers, they roam neighborhood streets, playing other games or sometimes just looking for something to eat.

If not for the efforts of a woman named Julia, many of them would go hungry. A 50-something community elder with an energetic spirit, Julia helps keep their bellies full, working with a group of other women to prepare meals that feed as many as 100 kids a day.

Life in some parts of Las Flores, a 5-square-mile shantytown near Barranquilla, Colombia, often presents a multitude of challenges. Food can be hard to come by; sewage, water, and electrical systems are nonexistent in most areas; and residents build shotgun-style homes with whatever materials they can find—in this case, mostly wood.

The local governments where slums like Las Flores are located see these places as eyesores, electing to leave them off of official maps. But two University of Miami School of Architecture professors, Carie Penabad and Adib Cure, believe slums should not only be recognized, but also given the assistance they need.

So with tools as simple and archaic as pencil and paper, and as advanced and high-tech as camera-equipped drones, the husband-and-wife team has made its mission to map some of the poorest and most vulnerable places in the world.

They started in 2006, using traditional surveying techniques to map the slum of Shakha near Mumbai, India. The following year, they traveled to the Cape Town, South African township of Langa to map the informal settlement of Joe Slovo, one of the largest slums in that country. “Then we realized something,” recalls Penabad. “We’re based in Miami, and we’re traveling to the other side of the world to study these informal settlements, when, in fact, we have at our doorstep Latin America and the Caribbean, where an urban population is growing. So why not turn our focus closer to home.”

And they did, beginning with Las Flores. For every spring semester between 2008 and 2015, Penabad and Cure have taken students from their School of Architecture upper-level design studio, and starting two years ago software engineers from UM’s Center for Computational Science, to this 60-year-old settlement to map its 75 neighborhood blocks and seven barrios. While CCS engineers operated the drones that produced highly detailed aerial maps of Las Flores, Penabad, Cure, and their students walked the streets, studying the slum’s building and construction patterns, peering into its simple wood and clay brick homes, observing neighborhood social interactions, and talking with  some of the 10,000 residents who live there—all as part of an extensive effort to better understand the settlement’s structure and inner workings and, perhaps, help cure what ails it.

“When these cities that are literally off the map are documented and studied, you begin to not only understand them but get a much bigger picture of their problems,” said Penabad. “Where would it make the most sense to bring in water and sewer lines? Where are they disconnected in terms of transportation? Where would it make the most sense to build a medical clinic? The potential for progress becomes more tangible and possible when you can see everything mapped out.”

Penabad compares the maps to “X-rays that allow us to diagnose a settlement’s condition.”

Here’s what their “X-ray” of Las Flores shows: Newer barrios where small sheet-metal roofed houses are built so close together that hardly any light and fresh air penetrate, older districts where, over time, wooden houses have been replaced by concrete homes, few if any public gathering spaces, and unpaved streets.

Las Flores is compact, mirroring on-the-grid Barranquilla only in having a clearly delineated pattern of streets and blocks. “Houses come up to the edges of streets,” explains Penabad, “and there aren’t many automobiles, so people walk to get to where they need to go.”

Usually where they need to go is to the larger metropolis, where shantytown residents frequently work in factories and hotels. Some of the women toil as housemaids. Only Penabad and Cure’s direct interaction with residents reveals that aspect of life in Las Flores, making their on-the-ground research just as eye-opening—and important—as the images the drones produce. What that research has shown is that Las Flores and many other such slums are surprisingly sustainable.

“There’s a well-structured network of families,” said Cure. “Older, more established families usually become the leaders, creating daycare centers and micro businesses that help the community.” One woman, he notes, even started a mobile clothes-washing service, wheeling a portable manual washing machine door to door.

“Everyone living in an urban slum isn’t necessarily worse off,” said Justin Stoler, an assistant professor of geography and regional studies in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences, whose own research on informal settlements has taken him to Accra, Ghana, to explore links between neighborhoods, the environment, and human health. “Living in a slum has been shown to not only hinder growth, but sometimes aid it via tight-knit communities that offer better resilience for overcoming stressors, and communities where residents take care of one another and provide buffers from all the problems they’re dealing with on a daily basis.”

Penabad and Cure’s goal is to make UM a center for the collection of data on informal settlements throughout Latin America. “We’ve found a way to map these in a pretty distinct way,” Penabad explains. “We’d like to acquire enough funding to deploy this toolkit more systematically and make it entirely open-sourced.”

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School of Communication Opens Two State-of-the-Art Centers

By Karina Valdes
Special to UM News

broadcastcenterUniversity of Miami School of Communication ushered in the interactive age with the dedication of two new centers on Friday, December 2.

The school officially opened the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center and the Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center in a unique ceremony emphasizing interaction and technology. UM trustees, donors, guests, and friends watched the ribbon cutting on two flat screen TVs in the school’s courtyard before touring the new facilities.

Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, opened the ceremony by thanking the university’s Board of Trustees, donors, faculty, students, staff, parents, and friends. He then told a story about “a space over here that we called the Reading Room.” The underutilized space would be transformed into the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center, but before “it was your typical small library that people of a certain generation remember well.”

“It was sort of dark and quiet, full of old dusty journals and hardly any students. It wasn’t a great place to be the front of the school. It wasn’t a great place for our students, as was obvious by their absence,” said Shepherd.

He “wanted a space that would encourage interactivity among our students.”

In the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center, students will gain hands-on experience in a professional setting by providing a multitude of digital and traditional creative services to clients.

Shepherd first approached Koenigsberg about four years ago with his vision for a new interactive space. Koenigsberg along with Miles Nadal, both parents of School of Communication students, lead the effort to build the interactive media center, and also encouraged other parents to become involved with the project.

“As you will see when you see the donor wall, you will note how many of our donors were parents,” said Shepherd.

With blueprints for the IMC showing a modern, high-tech space, it quickly became apparent the area adjacent to the IMC and the Robert Corley Groves Studio needed to be upgraded as well. Shepherd also, for a very long time, wanted to “put the Mann name up in this school.”

“Bob Mann has been a supporter of this school before it was a school,” said Shepherd. He also called him an adviser and a friend.

Mann was co-founder and first general manager of WVUM, UM’s student-run radio station. He is a member of the university’s Board of Trustees and chairs the School of Communication’s Visiting Committee. For more than 30 years, he has supported the university in numerous efforts including gifts to construct the Communication International Building and the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center. He established the Robert A. Mann Endowed Fund for the Department of Athletics, and the Samuel and Grace Mann Endowed Scholarship Fund in his parents’ honor to benefit undergraduate students majoring in broadcast journalism.

“And we now have the opportunity to put their names on this broadcast center. The Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center,” said Shepherd.

The Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center includes two HDTV broadcast studios, a sound stage for film production, an equipment room providing students with the latest technology, two control rooms, and editing suites with multiple functions.

“We have to keep on improving and we have to stay up with our peer schools and make sure we offer students the best equipment and the best facilities to learn in,” said Mann.

Thomas J. LeBlanc, executive vice president and provost, thanked the donors who supported the project and noted that in “higher education, and particularly in private higher education, things don’t happen without the support of philanthropists.”

“All of the great work that will take place within these centers…would not be possible without Bill, Miles, Bob, and Lauren. Thank you for your leadership and generosity in shaping the School of Communication,” said LeBlanc.

He also thanked the university’s trustees for supporting the vision to construct these centers.

“Today we celebrate a vision of what the School of Communication can be and how the facilities can impact undergraduate student learning,” said LeBlanc. “We are no longer in the medieval age and we need to make sure our university stays at the forefront, and this new project represents that commitment,” he added.

Margot Woll, School of Communication student and executive producer of UMTV’s SportsDesk, then asked guests of the ceremony to turn their attention to the TV screens to take a virtual tour of the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center and the Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center.

Oliver Redsten, School of Communication student and UMTV’s NewsVision anchor, lead the audience on the virtual tour and detailed what guests would soon have a chance to experience in person. He also explained how students would benefit from the spaces.

“As students, we will not only be learning about communication, but also how to implement communication plans and tactics, making us more confident when we enter the workforce,” said Redsten.

The TV screens then cut to the donor wall where Rebekah Chung, School of Communication student and executive producer of UMTV’s Pulse, interviewed Koenigsberg.

Koenigsberg expressed how we are living in a digitally connected world. “The currency of the future is digital currency,” he said, and he expressed how he hopes students who experience the IMC are provided with “digital currency so when they get out into the world they are richer than students from other schools because of this incredible space and atmosphere we’ve been able to develop for them.”

He also thanked Shepherd, and Donna Arbide, associate vice president of advancement, for inspiring him to want to help with this project.

“We are going to create the best students in the world through this interactive media center,” said Koenigsberg.

Nadal could not attend the dedication ceremony, but he was present through a videoconference from Ottawa, Canada.

“What excited me about this opportunity was that the University of Miami was taking a leadership role in creating the interactive media center of the future as part of its integrated communications program,” said Nadal.

He also added how “the amount of invention and investment that the university was making” made it apparent he wanted to “support and to invest behind the future digital interactive leaders of the future.”

After the ribbon cutting ceremonies, guests toured the Koenigsberg & Nadal Interactive Media Center and the Robert & Lauren Mann Broadcast Center. Students of the school were on hand to demonstrate the facilities and how they plan to use the spaces.

After touring the facility, Joseph B. Treaster, professor at the School of Communication, noted how “this center has got everything we need to really move on to the next stage.”

“I don’t think any other university has got something as powerful or as sweeping as this. All the greatest, neatest tools you want are here,” he added.

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UMIA Celebrates New Name and Home

With welcome remarks from Director Dr. Felicia Marie Knaul, Dean Leonidas Bachas, and President Julio Frenk, the Pick Hall location of the institute was officially inaugurated to become a research hub of the University on hemispheric issues.

Special to UM News

openhouse1

UMIA Director Dr. Felicia Marie Knaul  says global health is among the themes on the institute’s agenda.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 9, 2016)—The University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas (UMIA), previously known as the University of Miami Institute for the Americas, officially opened its doors at its new Albert Pick Hall location to become part of the University hemispheric strategy and make full use of the hemispheric endowment that it represents.

Led by Dr. Felicia Marie Knaul, UMIA promotes enhanced human, economic and social development within and across the hemisphere through research, teaching, convening, communicating, and incubating innovative projects. “Our mission is to build a thriving Institute that creates and shares knowledge bridging the Americas, strengthening the myriad areas of the University of Miami undertaking research pertaining to the hemisphere,” Knaul said.

UMIA, which held an Open House on December 2 to celebrate its new name, partners, mission, and location in the former home of the Graduate School, builds from the leadership, trajectory, and interests of the Center for Hemispheric Policy and the Center for Latin American Studies. “Very few think tanks attached to universities have a global health agenda,” Knaul said. “This is one of the themes that the institute will be addressing, including the work on Women’s Cancers in the Americas in a joint effort with the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UHealth System; investing in health systems through diagonal approaches; and advocating for the role of women through gender transformative policies.”

“We have probably one of the top Caribbean programs in the United States and one of best programs for the study of Brazil,” said Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “Things are happening and will continue to happen at the institute.”

Faculty leads Merike Blofield, Sallie Hughes, and Kate Ramsey

Faculty leads Merike Blofield, Sallie Hughes, and Kate Ramsey

To support the institute’s research endeavors, Knaul has invited Sallie Hughes, associate professor at the School of Communication and an expert in Latin America, to join UMIA as faculty research lead for Latin American studies and policy. Hughes has been working closely with UMIA since August.

“Geography is destiny; but it also takes leadership, ambition, and hard work, and I am more optimistic than ever that we are going to reach that destiny,” Hughes said.

In addition, Merike Blofied and Kate Ramsey, faculty leads for Women’s and Gender Studies and Hemispheric Caribbean Studies, respectively, will be joining UMIA next spring. “We are also working with Ileana Porras and we will be working and generating another research lead on Social Justice in the Americas, something that we feel in these times is particularly important,” Knaul said.

Likewise, three graduate students, Caitlin Brown, Matthew Davidson, and Yulia Vorobyeva, are the recipients of the UMIA/Latin American Studies Program Distinguished Fellows grants awarded by the College of Arts & Sciences to fund student work in all areas of Latin America and the Caribbean. The goals of these grants are to offer students an opportunity to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of language, terrain, and culture; become familiar with information and sources relevant to their studies; conduct pilot work and preliminary investigations; and develop contacts with scholars and institutions in their fields of study.

Distinguished fellows Caitlin Brown, m Matthew Davidson, and Yulia Vorovyeba

Distinguished fellows Caitlin Brown, m
Matthew Davidson, and Yulia Vorobyeva

In his brief remarks at the Open House, UM President Julio Frenk noted that  no other university in the United States, or for that matter in the world, has the advantage of being located in one of the most cosmopolitan cities and to serve really as a force of integration across the Americas.

“So, having an institute that is devoted to the advanced study of the Americas and a convening function, as well as the scholarship around the whole array of disciplines that contribute to an understanding of the Americas is certainly a matter of great pride for the University,” he said. “It is a great occasion to see that the building is finally ready, and that it will continue the great tradition of Latin American studies, convening of hemispheric policies, and we look forward to great new developments in this University of Miami Institute for the Advanced Study of the Americas.”

The Open House was a beautiful example of interdisciplinary collaboration, displaying art work and musical performances from the region and bringing together students from various schools, faculty members, and other organizations.

Percussionist Murphy Aucamp and his band, all students at the Frost School of Music, performed live salsa in Pick Hall’s courtyard. Art works from Latin America and the Caribbean included paintings, handcrafts, and photographs from Cuba, Curacao, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

And photographer Behna Gardner, wife of Laurence B. Gardner, interim dean of the Miller School of Medicine, broke many hearts with her touching exhibit from Zanmi Beni (creole for “Blessed Friends”), an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince that is home to 64 children many of whom were left homeless and abandoned after the devastating earthquake of Haiti in 2010. The photos are collection of portraits taken on the day the children were baptized. To learn more about Zamni Beni, visit http://www.friendsofzb.org.

One of Knaul’s major ongoing projects is the work of the Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Control, whose final report is expected to be launched next summer at the University of Miami. Looking forward, the institute will build on recently begun initiatives, including the Research Lunch Series, a Latin America and Caribbean Digest edited every two weeks by the distinguished fellows, a new series on Leading Ladies of the Americas, annual country-specific symposia, featured research from grant recipients, and publications, among others.

“We will continue building a robust agenda for the region, helping the institute become a catalyst for those working across campus, and giving all a home,” Knaul said in her closing remarks.

 

 

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Festival Miami: The Impact Beyond the Orchestra

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter-pianist Bruce Hornsby performs with fellow UM Frost School of Music alumnus and bassist Chris Croce on February 4 at Festival Miami

By Jennifer Palma
UM News

hornsby

Bruce Hornsby

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 7, 2016) — Each year, musical guests and students at the University of Miami Frost School of Music come together to captivate audiences of varying musical interests and passions.

As Florida’s premier live music festival, Festival Miami promotes a broad range of genres and musical talents to provide students and guests with innovative and inspiring performances. For many students, involvement in Festival Miami brings perspectives full circle.

For Frost School of Music alumnus Chris Croce, B.M. ’14, this year’s Festival Miami experience is unique compared to his past festival performances. For the first time since graduating, Croce is returning to UM to showcase his talents with Bruce Hornsby, B.M. ’77, and the Frost School’s Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra as part of the Creative American Music series.

For Croce, the upcoming show truly brings him back to where his career started. He recalls the moment during his time as a student when he first worked with Hornsby preparing for a Festival Miami concert. “Members of the Frost Studio Jazz Band created their own arrangements of Bruce Hornsby tunes and performed for Bruce,” said Croce. “As a bass player, I tend to sit near the piano and ended up next to Bruce during our performance. I think that was the first time he took notice of my interest in both contemporary and jazz music.”

Interactions such as the one with Croce and Hornsby happen frequently at the Frost School. Their brief meeting sparked a larger conversation and prompted Hornsby to reach out to Croce a few years later when he returned to Miami Beach for a concert with the New World Symphony. This time, Hornsby invited Croce to join him on stage for that symphonic performance, which was praised as “musically arresting” and “entertaining” by South Florida Classical Review. While the two haven’t had a chance to perform together since, Hornsby knew Croce would be the ideal musician to join him during his Festival Miami performance with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.

“During my time playing with the Studio Jazz Band at the Frost School of Music, Chris played great and had this beautiful, joyous spirit as a player and a person. It was great to play with him at the New World Symphony concert, and I knew he would be a perfect fit for the Festival Miami show,” said Hornsby.

Hornsby knows well the impact visiting performers, especially alumni, can have on students. “One of the first concerts I attended as a student was The Dixie Dregs, a band comprised of former UM music students,” shared Hornsby. “The performance inspired and amazed me.”

It’s moments and opportunities like this that keep Hornsby, Croce, and others returning to perform and take part in Festival Miami. With an eclectic mix of performers and genres, the festival appeals to musically diverse interests and cultures, including everything from Cuban fusion to American pop.

“At Festival Miami, the performances are unique in the sense that they often cross genres, sounds, and styles,” said Croce. “When you attend a performance, it’s not just jazz or songwriting. It always goes much deeper. I think that speaks to the diversity of the Frost School of Music in general.”

While Festival Miami performances will continue to impress audiences regardless of genre or style, connections like the one between Croce and Hornsby communicate the value of merging the past and the present on center stage. “While I was a student, it was opportunities like working with Bruce Hornsby, taking part in songwriting competitions, and opening for other artists that shaped me into an all-around musician. Each of these occasions is unique to Festival Miami, and I know many other students who have had similar interactions and now have similar stories to tell,” said Croce.

“Bruce Hornsby is one of the most moving and innovative songwriter/composers of our time,” said Frost School of Music Dean Shelly Berg. “It is thrilling to me that he is returning to his alma mater to inspire and collaborate with our student artists. The thrill is amplified by Bruce’s selection of Frost alum Chris Croce to join in as a performer.”

On February, 4, 2017, when Hornsby and Croce take their talents center stage for their Festival performance with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, they will perpetuate the legacy of Festival Miami, fostering lifelong connections that create musical adventures for years to come.

Also slated to appear at Festival Miami on February 9 is renowned violinist Mark O’Connor with The O’Connor Band, along with alumnus bassist Geoff Saunders, M.M. ’13, now a D.M.A. candidate at the Frost School. O’Connor was artist-in-residence at Frost when he met Saunders, whom he then invited to record and tour with The O’Connor Band. Their Coming Home album debuted at No. 1 in August on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums Chart.

Festival Miami kicks-off on January 19, 2017 and runs through February 11, guaranteeing another year of Grammy Award-winning and internationally acclaimed musical guest artists, master faculty artists, and award-winning student ensembles. For a full listing of performers, concerts and ticket availability, visit festivalmiami.com.

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UM Launches State’s First Needle Exchange Program

syringesFor years, while a student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Hansel Tookes fought the Florida legislature to pass the first law in the state that would allow drug users to exchange used needles for clean ones in an effort to combat HIV transmission among at-risk groups.

On Thursday, after four years of fighting and on a day that coincides with World AIDS Day, the pilot needle exchange program begins in Miami-Dade.

“Syringe exchange is one of the most evidence-based interventions we have to prevent HIV,” said Tookes, M.D., M.P.H. “As the heroin epidemic in South Florida flourishes, we now have the proper tools to keep this population healthy. Harm reduction works and now Miami will join other progressive U.S. cities to better service our citizens.”

The pilot program, the IDEA Exchange named after the Infectious Disease Elimination Act, is just one area where University of Miami health officials have been working to find a cure and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“The HIV statistics in Miami are sobering and now it’s become a personal mission to stay working on HIV until it’s vanquished,” said Mario Stevenson, Ph.D., the Miller School of Medicine’s chief of infectious diseases and Director of the AIDS Institute.

As Stevenson notes, the HIV epidemic in Miami-Dade – which has the nation’s highest rate of incidence – extends beyond basic science.

“Much of the challenge is really dealing with societal issues in terms of how HIV thrives on substance abuse and lifestyles,” he said. “Those are the effects that we have to deal with to fight this epidemic.”

Miami has been a battleground for the HIV and AIDS epidemic since the early 1980s when the then-mysterious, immune-attacking virus first surfaced. The emergence of HIV and AIDS quickly propelled University of Miami physicians to the front lines of one of the deadliest and complex epidemics in modern times.

Seeing a swell of symptomatic women and dying infants, doctors at the School of Medicine were among the first to sound the alarm about the disease. Miami’s close proximity to endemic countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, rising substance abuse, homelessness and mental health are just some of the unique factors that have made Miami-Dade County the HIV epicenter, having both the highest rate and incidence of HIV and the largest and most diverse infected population. Broward County also consistently ranks among the nation’s top HIV-plagued counties.

Over the past three and a half decades, University of Miami Health System infectious disease physicians along with public health experts, psychologists and a team of world-renowned scientists have implemented a unique comprehensive care model and devised tailored population outreach strategies that range from rapid testing, strong community alliances and aggressive adolescent outreach, among other innovative initiatives. The pioneering work of UM pediatricians has nearly erased mother-to-child transmission in Miami. UM’s wide-ranging research has led to groundbreaking HIV drug discoveries and has served to inform top U.S. research institutes on what approaches are effective, especially among minority women. Across the University, scientists in high-tech infectious disease labs busily work toward a cure, vaccine and new therapies.

Stevenson, a renowned scientist, is one of three top infectious disease scientists who relocated their labs to Miami in recent years for greater access to Miami’s diverse patient population. UM’s HIV research arm has allowed thousands of patients to be enrolled in clinical trials that give them access to new therapies and help improve their overall health.

Stopping the Spread

Adding to its arsenal of outreach strategies is UM’s pilot needle exchange program, along with ramped up efforts to reach at-risk communities with the highly-critical pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug that blocks the transmission so effectively that it has been likened to a vaccine. These measures may represent a turning point for Miami, as they were key to reducing HIV in other U.S. cities such as San Francisco.

The University of Miami Health System is collaborating with the Miami-Dade County Health Department to start a PrEP clinic that will allow enhanced access to PrEP for Miami-Dade County residents. “New strategies such as PrEP have revolutionized the way we think about HIV prevention,” said Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine, and a PrEP expert leading the effort. “Our work now is to make these very effective interventions available to everyone in Miami who could benefit from them.”

In another innovative research project involving PrEP, renowned UM infectious disease physician Margaret Fischl, M.D., professor of medicine, Director of the Miami AIDS Clinical Research Unit and Co-Director of the Miami Center for AIDS Research, will be targeting transgender women with longer term inter-muscular injections of the drug. Transgender women, she said, tend to have higher rates of drug use and risky sexual behaviors.

“As part of our work, we continue to identify vulnerable populations and employ different modalities to prevent transmission, improve adherence and in turn stop the disease from replicating in those who are infected,” said Fischl, whose early pioneering research was instrumental in gaining FDA approval of AZT, the world’s first antiretroviral drug treatment for AIDS that would later be widely used to prevent transmission of HIV. “Longer term injections of PREP will greatly boost adherence, which has been one of the greatest obstacles in stemming HIV.”

Needle exchange is another new promising initiative. Florida was one of just 15 states that lacked a needle exchange program despite Miami-Dade having the highest rate of HIV and skyrocketing heroin use. Hansel Tookes, M.D., M.P.H., a Miller School-trained resident with a background in public health fought four years for passage of the state needle exchange bill, which was passed in April 2016 and authorized the Miller School of Medicine to conduct a five-year exchange program on a pilot basis within Miami-Dade County.

In addition to receiving clean needles, participants will be educated on safe injection techniques and offered immunizations, as well as viral hepatitis and HIV testing. The program will also link drug users into treatment programs and link those who test positive for HIV or hepatitis to health care – with the goal of reducing the spread of these diseases.

Changing Behavior, Changing Outcomes

Given the psychological burdens and barriers associated with HIV, behavioral health has long been a crucial component to UM’s role in connecting people to care and stemming transmission.  Since the 1990s, psychologists and behavioral health specialists in the Department of Psychology on UM’s main Coral Gables campus and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Sciences on the Miller School campus have rigorously studied risky sexual behaviors, mental health patterns and barriers that contribute to HIV. Addressing the epidemic from a behavioral and mental health perspective allowed UM psychologists to create effective interventions and group therapy sessions that have helped HIV-infected minority women overcome the stigma and obstacles to care. The behavioral research also found that most infected women continue to be sexually active (often times unprotected) and go on to have children, which prompted UM behavioral health experts to collaborate with physicians to devise and implement interventions that provide pre-conception counseling. The project educates young HIV-positive women and teens on safe sex practices, including adherence and the role of PREP, preventing mother-to-child-transmission and overcoming barriers to disclosing their HIV status to their partners.

UM professor of psychology Steven Safren, Ph.D., and other UM collaborators, recently published a study in The Lancet HIV journal that linked depression to lower HIV drug adherence and also showed that integrating cognitive behavioral therapy with specialized counseling helps boost adherence.

“While HIV medications and drug prevention mechanisms have greatly improved, it can still be difficult for some to benefit from those drugs due to mental health issues that worsen adherence,” said Safren. “Evidence-based mental health interventions help patients overcome the psychological burdens of the disease which in turn helps boost their adherence and their overall health outcomes.”

UM has also made significant strides in HIV research, testing, outreach and care in the following areas

Street Testing

A project led by Sonjia Kenya, Ed.D., M.S., M.A., Director of Community Health Programs at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Jay Weiss Institute for Health Equity, conducts rapid street testing in African-American and black Caribbean neighborhoods. Funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the project aims to increase knowledge of HIV transmission and treatment among African-American and Caribbean black adults in Miami, and reduce risky behaviors among program participants. The program builds on Kenya’s previous studythat showed the use of community-based health workers along with rapid, home-based HIV testing is an effective strategy for getting more high-risk African American residents tested and connected to health services and treatment.

Innovative Lab Research

Adding to existing clinical research and lab studies, the University became an HIV research hub with the addition of Stevenson and two other world-renowned infectious disease scientists, David Watkins, Ph.D., professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Pathology, and Ronald Desrosiers, Ph.D., professor of pathology. In 2015, Desrosiers and his Harvard University collaborators identified an antibody-like molecule that provides long-term protection against HIV/AIDS infection. Researchers engineered molecules which blocked two key receptors that the HIV virus uses to gain entry to the body’s CD4 white blood cells. The study showed that 100 percent of HIV-1 strains were neutralized by this new molecule inhibitor, which is the first time that this level of protection has been accomplished.

Women’s Interagency HIV Study

As minority women are disproportionately affected and represent the majority of new HIV cases, the University became a site for the national Women’s Interagency HIV Study. Funded by an $8.5 million National Institutes of Health grant, the five-year study has a broad focus including epidemiology, social and behavioral issues, substance abuse, long-term impact of HIV medication, prevalence of co-infection with other opportunistic diseases, such as hepatitis B and C, early onset of menopause, vaginal health and other scientific insight. In a recent and significant finding, Fischl and her collaborators found that vaginal douching increases the risk for women to contract HIV and transmit it to their partners. Douching, researchers found, breaks down the vaginal cell structure and causes bacterial vaginosis, which leaves women more vulnerable. For HIV-positive women, it causes increased amounts of the virus to form in the vagina, particularly around the cervix, which increases chances for transmitting the virus to their partners.

Comprehensive Care

Partnering with Jackson Memorial Hospital, University of Miami Health System doctors created a comprehensive HIV clinic designed to be a one-stop-shop clinic for all the patients’ needs, especially those of low socioeconomic status. The unique center provides a range of medical and advocacy services and, partnered with the UM School of Law, provides a legal clinic at the site.

Adolescent Outreach

The teen and adolescent population (13-24) has become a primary target for UM’s local outreach efforts. Many are unaware of their status, or if positive, are unable to disclose to family members. Miller School outreach workers in the Division of Adolescent Medicine have become the foot soldiers of outreach and have mounted creative tactics to reach youngsters—from setting up mobile testing clinics to staffing health fairs outside of alternative night clubs and high school sporting events. The clinic itself and the group sessions for those newly diagnosed have become a safe haven for youth who can get comprehensive care, interact and confide in others like themselves.

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