On October 24, crowds of people filed into a Hilton Garden Inn ballroom to celebrate the City of Iowa City’s 35th Annual Human Rights Awards recipients. Among the six awards, University of Iowa’s Dr. Jack Stapleton, Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and the members of the Ryan White Team received the Rick Graf Award for their dedication to researching and providing social support for HIV and AIDS patients.
“It’s a nice testament to our work,” Dr. Stapleton said of the award. “Since the beginning, we’ve put the patient as the most important part of the program and feel that we’ve done our best to improve the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS.”
Dr. Stapleton, who opened the first HIV and AIDS clinic in Iowa 30 years ago with the help of Dr. Robert Clark, has conducted several studies to improve the lives of his patients. Since the clinic opened, faculty members here have led more than 50 clinical and epidemiological trials thanks to funds from the NIH and the pharmaceutical industry. These trials assisted in the licensure of many HIV medications. The clinic at Iowa contributed to the 1992 NIH AIDS Clinic Trials Group. Additionally, the clinic provides samples for studies conducted in Dr. Stapleton’s labs and labs of faculty members in the Department of Microbiology.
“He has done amazing things to help improve the medicine and life expectancy of those impacted by this illness, and today people are living with and not dying from this diagnosis,” social worker Angela Speers said. Ms. Speers nominated Dr. Stapleton and the Ryan White Team for the award.
University of Iowa Health Care’s Ryan White Team is one of four Iowa HIV Clinics and twelve Iowa-based agencies that provide medical care, transportation, financial healthcare assistance, and substance abuse treatment to the low-income HIV and AIDS population. The team consists of several providers, a benefits specialist, a program nurse, a behavioral health consultant, support staff, and six social workers, including Ms. Speers.
In 1988, Dr. Stapleton and nurse practitioner Kristine Davis advocated for and received funding from the Ryan White Program. “This funding has grown under the current clinic leader Tricia Kroll, and we are able to provide outstanding medical and psychosocial support and care services to our now approximately 800 active patients,” Dr. Stapleton said.
“Our team not only helps our patients medically but also with the stigma they have to face in their daily lives. While the medical aspect of this diagnosis has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, the stigma has not,” Speers said.
After receiving the award, Dr. Stapleton and the Ryan White Team continue to push for improvement of how HIV is perceived in the public eyes.
“More than 90% of our patients are taking their medications and have suppressed the growth of their HIV in the blood to levels that are so low, we cannot detect the virus. While this is fantastic news for people living with HIV, it has led to a complacency in the public and far less interest in the diseases. Nevertheless, the number of new infections per year have not dropped in our clinic, and new strategies to try and reduce new infections are not widely used,” Dr. Stapleton, who plans to work with Dr. Mike Ohl, Associate Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, in the near future to resolve the problem.