In recent years, The Campbell Foundation has been awarding what we call “fast-track grants” to South Florida-based researchers to demonstrate our commitment to addressing HIV/AIDS in our own backyard.
As with any grant, we ask recipients to update us on how the funding we provide has made an impact. Most recently, we heard from Dr. Farouk Meklat, PharmD., a researcher at Broward Health Comprehensive Care Center in Fort Lauderdale, who was awarded a $25,000 grant. The funding was used to get high-risk, HIV-negative women on anti-HIV medication (i.e. PrEP) to prevent new infections.
The center’s testing team found that many patients who test negative have multiple risk factors for contracting HIV such as inconsistent condom use, diagnosis of other sexually transmitted infections, exchange of sex for money, use of illicit drugs, partners of unknown HIV status, and engaging in sexual activity in a high prevalence area.
Recently, Dr. Meklat reported back on two particularly striking examples of how funding from The Campbell Foundation was used.
A 34-year-old woman had been with her boyfriend about six months when they learned he was HIV positive. She did not test positive. Although the boyfriend was able to get on antiretroviral therapy (ART) quickly, there were no programs for partners who are not HIV positive. This is where The Campbell Foundation’s fast-track grant came into play.
“I was able to get ‘Cristina’ into care, do all the lab tests necessary and start her on Truvada (PrEP) within a few weeks of meeting her. Not only is it empowering to the patient to know that they have options and that they can stay in relationships regardless of their partner’s status, it is also very liberating for HIV positive patients. They now also have options, they can open up about their status and be able to have an honest conversation about HIV and their relationships,” Dr. Meklat told us.
In another case, Dr. Meklat was working with a couple in their early 20s. The male was born HIV positive, is on medication, and is undetectable. His girlfriend was HIV negative. They did not know she could get PrEP for free.
Being able to provide medication and to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS is incredibly important, says Dr. Meklat, who points out that in 2017, Broward County saw a 20 percent increase in newly diagnosed HIV cases.
“Opportunistic infections are on the raise. Newly diagnosed patients already have AIDS. It seems like we are stepping back to a time when this disease was not as understood as it is now,” he said. “It is 2018, and people still die due to complications from AIDS. This fact alone makes me want to keep educating people and testing people and making sure people have access to the care they deserve.
And of course, we would not be able to provide this care without the support and generosity of organizations such as The Campbell Foundation.”
The Campbell Foundation has been funding AIDS research for 23 years. We are grateful to researchers such as Dr. Meklat who share these stories with us. There is still so much that needs to be done, we are proud to be a part of the solution.