$11.4M HHS grant supports regional HIV/AIDS training center at UIC

Student health professionalsThe University of Illinois at Chicago has received a four-year, $11.4 million grant from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to support the Midwest AIDS Training + Education Center, one of eight regional centers administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

MATEC, established at UIC in 1988, serves as a clearinghouse of information for providers and trains physicians, nurses, dentists, social workers and public health officers in HIV/AIDS care and prevention. Through seminars, classes, and online training, it serves 10 states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska and Ohio.

“MATEC’s goal is to increase the number of health care professionals prepared to provide high-quality HIV care to their patients, especially in the hardest-hit minority communities,” says Dr. Ricardo Rivero, executive director of MATEC and clinical assistant professor of family medicine in the UIC College of Medicine.

“It’s hard for a general practitioner to know everything there is to know about HIV/AIDS through traditional medical education,” said Dr. Patrick Tranmer, professor of clinical family medicine and principal investigator on MATEC’s HHS grant. “HIV/AIDS is a particularly complex disease to manage and treat. MATEC is really fulfilling a very important role for the thousands of health care workers that see patients with HIV in their daily practices by keeping up with new information and best practices.”

HIV/AIDS prevalence varies across the Midwest, with urban areas including Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis carrying the greatest burden of the disease.

Rivero said recent outbreaks of HIV in southern Indiana point to the continuing need for vigilance. Existing providers must be prepared, and new providers must be trained to fill workforce gaps, he said.

Many HIV-positive patients have no detectable virus in their blood because they are receiving good treatment — but this too varies across the Midwest. In Minnesota, more than half of people who are HIV-positive have no detectable virus, compared to only a quarter of those in Indiana. The average for all states is 30 percent.

Tranmer says that “solid evidence” now shows that when a patient’s viral-load can be held to an undetectable level, it not only improves that person’s quality of life, but eliminates the chance of them infecting others. “The more caregivers we train on best practices for achieving viral suppression, the more new infections we can prevent,” he said.

But Rivero said much responsibility rests on patients.  Many may stop seeing their physicians before they are assigned a treatment plan. “MATEC is working on developing interventions and support systems for patients so that they don’t fall between the cracks,” he said. “We want to get every patient to the point where their viral-load is undetectable.”

The HHS grant will also support the creation of new programs. Rivero and his staff have identified 14 clinics located in areas in greatest need of high-quality HIV resources that MATEC will work with as “practice-transformation” projects to expand and improve the quality of HIV care they provide.

MATEC will also work with UIC’s Center for Excellence in Interprofessional Education to develop an HIV/AIDS training curriculum in partnership with Indiana University, the universities of Minnesota, Cincinnati, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The curriculum will cover all aspects of HIV care and treatment and allow students to see in the clinic how doctors, nurses and other professionals can work as a team to optimally manage HIV care.

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