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[November 27, 2009]

SUNY Downstate Commemorates a Quarter Century in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS with World AIDS Day Program December 1:

Portions of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Be Exhibited

On World AIDS Day, SUNY Downstate Medical Center will offer a program on the history and future of AIDS, highlighting the medical center’s contributions to HIV prevention, research, and treatment. The event will take place December 1, from 2:30 – 4:00 pm, in Alumni Auditorium, 395 Lenox Road, Brooklyn, New York.

“As part of Downstate’s 150th anniversary celebrations, we thought it fitting on World AIDS Day to look at what Downstate has accomplished in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” says President John C. LaRosa, MD, who will deliver the opening remarks.

Jack A. DeHovitz, MD, MPH, director of the HIV Center for Women and Children at Downstate, adds, “For World AIDS Day, we’ve brought together healthcare leaders from within Downstate and beyond to review what we have achieved and to discuss where our efforts should be focused in the future.”

Ronald Bayer, PhD, an expert on medical ethics in the treatment of AIDS, will deliver the keynote address. Dr. Bayer is professor at the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Kathy Powderly, CNM, PhD, acting director of the Division of Humanities in Medicine at SUNY Downstate, will introduce Dr. Bayer.

Other distinguished speakers will include M. Monica Sweeney, MD, MPH, assistant commissioner for HIV/AIDS prevention and control in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Ivo Lorenz, PhD, principal scientist for immunogen design for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), and a research assistant professor at Downstate, who will discuss efforts to create an AIDS vaccine; and the Reverend Dr. Paul Smith, vice chairperson at the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, who will provide reflections and the benediction.          

A panel of Downstate healthcare professionals will discuss their experiences delivering HIV/AIDS care over the past quarter century. The panel members include Jeffrey Birnbaum, MD, MPH; Jack DeHovitz, MD, MPH; Joan Hittelman, PhD; Susan Holman, RN, MS-C; Sheldon Landesman, MD; Hermann Mendez, MD; and Howard Minkoff, MD.

Portions of the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display at the entrance to the Alumni Auditorium.

In the 1980s, SUNY Downstate developed one of the first dedicated multi-disciplinary AIDS programs integrating clinical, psychosocial, and educational services. By combining such disciplines as infectious disease, gynecology, and pediatrics, Downstate was among the first to focus on HIV transmission from mother to child.  Before effective medication was available, Downstate identified the importance of Cesarean birth to reduce the chance of perinatal HIV transmission. (Later, studies found that zidovudine [AZT] dramatically reduced the risk of mother-to-child transmission). perinatal transmission rates high, there were large numbers of children with developmental disabilities caused by HIV infection. In response to the growing need for therapeutic intervention, Downstate's Infant and Child Learning Center provided the first early intervention and preschool special education program dedicated to providing education and therapy for children with HIV infection, including hospital-based, home-based, and center-based programs.

 In 1993, Downstate’s investigators founded the HIV Center for Women and Children, combining research, primary care, and community outreach. Research conducted by SUNY Downstate was used by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to refine the definition of AIDS in women.      

Today, the HIV Center serves more than 2,000 men, women, and children through a wide variety of services.  Each year, the HIV Center receives more than $15 million in extramural funding to support its varied research and service activities. In recent years, Downstate investigators have researched a multitude of HIV issues, such as hepatitis C, drug use, and neurocognitive changes. Finally, many studies now focus on how to help people in the local community maintain healthy lives. To this end, Downstate faculty members are researching attitudes and behaviors to ultimately help people stay in care and reduce behaviors that place them at risk for acquiring HIV. Downstate also directs innovative peer-education programs to teach young people how to avoid the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

In addition to contributing to national research efforts, the HIV Center is also involved in a number of international projects.  Since 1993, Downstate has provided HIV training for professionals from Central Europe and Eastern Europe, now including Russia. In 2007, the HIV Center was awarded a Twinning Partnership to enhance HIV research capacity with the University of the Free State in South Africa. The HIV Center has hosted delegations of physicians and care providers from Georgia, Grenada, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and Trinidad and Tobago. 

Downstate also has a long history of collaboration with other organizations involved in the HIV epidemic. Downstate partnered with the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, established in 1992 to develop programs to improve health care delivery in urban America, including HIV prevention.  Downstate also collaborates with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

A history of SUNY Downstate’s contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS can be found by visiting



SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.