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New Strides for HIV Research at Hunter

New Strides for HIV Research at Hunter

Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of Hunter's Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies, Dr. Jeffrey T. Parsons

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1.2 million people in the United States are currently living with HIV – and one in eight of those people don’t know they have it. That problem is particularly dire for young people, who account for more than a quarter of newly diagnosed HIV infections, and an estimated 60% of whom are unaware of their HIV status. Dr. Jeffrey T. Parsons, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of Hunter's Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies (CHEST) is working to make a dent in those statistics -- and, through a research program called Scale it Up which focuses on interventions and self-management techniques for at-risk youth ages 13-24, some transformative changes are on the horizon.

Dr. Parsons and his colleagues at Wayne State University and Seton Hall University have been awarded a 15.7 million dollar 5 year grant from the National Institute of Child and Human Development (NICDH) to become part of the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS prevention. Through a series of research projects, supported by core resources, Parsons and his team will address self-care and disease prevention efforts for HIV-negative adolescents, and utilize text message and cell phone support interventions to improve the lives of HIV-positive youth. “We know that large numbers of youth are not seeking HIV/STI testing or prevention services. Young gay men of color are disproportionally affected – both in terms of new HIV infections and challenges with access to care and prevention services. Many HIV-positive youth are not sustaining adequate HIV care and treatment. They may be engaging in other risky behaviors such as substance use that interfere across all points in the HIV prevention and treatment cascades. The goal of Scale it Up is to help these youth effectively self-manage their behaviors,” said Parsons.

This project, which will receive lead support from Dr. Parsons and his team at CHEST, is just one in a two-decade history of the organization's work to educate and advocate for people at-risk-for and living with HIV, a disease which -- while no longer presenting the crisis of the '80's --continues to pose a potent challenge to public health. And today, September 27, CHEST hosts a major symposium at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College -- both to mark its 20th anniversary, and to draw attention to research projects like Scale it Up, work that still needs attention and implementation. This symposium, which draws a wide top experts in the field, from doctors, scholars, scientists, and practitioners, is designed to spark conversation, inspire connections between researchers and policy makers in the field, and explore options for future research and innovation.

In the past two decades, as the field of AIDS research has grown and transformed, Dr. Parsons, who founded CHEST in 1996, has overseen vital research and outreach to move the field forward, focusing on health behavior changes to directly improve the lives of people at risk for or living with the disease. The five hour conference, “HIV Research Informing Policy: Past, Present, and Future,” will open with a panel addressing Chest’s history of research informing policy, followed by a session devoted to using that research to address current gaps in HIV prevention policy, and concluding with a session devoted to the future: “New Directions – What Research Do We Need for to Advance Policy Related to HIV and LGBT Health?” Mark S. King, an acclaimed author and blogger who has been living with HIV since 1985, will moderate the program.

Dr. Parsons hopes the conference will revitalize the urgency of the conversation about the still pressing problem of HIV/AIDS, one that particularly affects minorities and underprivileged populations – and those young people Scale it Up is going to reach. “Our goal for this symposium is to convey the need for more study and ever-nimbler policy changes, and to encourage vital dialogues on an ongoing basis.”

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