Nursing professor serves on international AIDS board

Donna Roberson is helping shape the research and treatment of HIV and AIDS worldwide as a board member of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, a group with more than 2,200 members from 60 countries.

HIV/AIDS is not in the news as much now as it was in the 1980s, but it’s still a significant health threat, with approximately 37 million people globally living with HIV in 2016, according to UNAIDS.

“We haven’t cured HIV, but we understand now that if you can knock HIV down — suppress the viral load so it’s not detectable in the blood stream — people are less likely to spread it, their immune system tends to be healthier and they tend not to develop AIDS,” said Roberson, an associate professor and executive director of program evaluation in the College of Nursing.

As understanding has improved, so have treatment plans and patients’ ability to adhere to them.Now, a diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.

“When I first started as a nurse, if you got diagnosed with HIV, you didn’t live six months or a year because you quickly developed AIDS and died from it,” said Roberson, who treated her first patient with AIDS in 1986.“It was really a scary thing.

“We had people taking 20 pills four and five times a day,” Roberson said.“Now we’ve got it figured out where people can take combination pills and take them just one or two or three times per day.That’s still a lot, but in the world of HIV that’s such an improvement.”

While talk about HIV may have declined, the virus is on the rise among certain demographics.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 percent of new HIV infections are among heterosexuals.The South accounted for 53 percent of U.S.AIDS diagnoses in 2016 (9,584 of the 18,160 diagnosed).

“Infection rates are increasing, particularly in women in the southeastern United States, particularly poor women of color,” Roberson said.“They’re acquiring HIV through heterosexual contact, and that’s 100 percent preventable.”

Roberson said infection rates are also growing among adults in their 50s and 60s.