Spotlight: Alex Zirulnik, M.P.H. and Ezekial Ojewale, M.D., M.P.H.

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized


Ezekiel Ojewale and Alex Zirulnik visiting the FIU Campus


Alex Zirulnik, M.P.H. plays an important role in Southern HIV and Alcohol Research Consortium (SHARC) as the Florida Cohort research coordinator. Zirulnik grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and attended University of Florida for his higher education. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Florida College of Agriculture and his Masters of Public Health, with a focus on epidemiology, from the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions. He is also certified in Public Health. Regarding his future goals, Zirulnik looks forward to attending medical school, moving out West to attend a residency in Emergency Medicine, and living a life full of adventure.

As a research coordinator, Zirulnik is very involved with the Florida Cohort project.

“I enjoy bringing together a population that often finds themselves secluded from research. [Through the project] I’ve had the opportunity to work with patients and hear their stories which has been very influential on my medical career pursuits. I also enjoy the many opportunities to collaborate with researchers all across the state of Florida.”

Alex will be leaving SHARC this summer in order to attend the University of Florida College of Medicine.

Taking over Zirulnik’s role this summer will be Ezekiel Ojewale, M.D., M.P.H. Ojewale grew up in Nigeria and left when he was 19 years old. He attended Hillsborough Community College, University of South Florida, Medical University of Lublin Poland, and the University of Florida and has earned both his Medical Degree and Masters of Public Health. Ojewale looks forward to getting his residency and saving lives through the practice of medicine, while applying the skills he has acquired during his M.P.H. to better serve the population as a whole.

Ezekiel believes there is much to gain from the Florida Cohort project.

“[I enjoy] relating with people and learning new things…along the way.”

Interventions for Alcohol Use among PLWH

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized


Dr. Betsy McCaul


Dr. Geetanjali Chander

On March 31, 2016, SHARC welcomes special guests Dr. Betsy McCaul and Dr. Geetanjali Chander from Johns Hopkins University to speak about interventions for alcohol use among people living with HIV. Mary “Betsy” McCaul, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. Geetanjali Chander, M.D., is the Director of the General Internal Medicine Fellowship Program and Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

Watch their presentation here.

Johns Hopkins performs first transplants between donors and recipients infected with HIV

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized


Dorry Segev, MD, PhD (right) Image credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine

In a groundbreaking procedure, Johns Hopkins Medicine has performed the first liver and kidney transplant from an HIV-infected donor to an HIV-infected recipient.

Associate professor of surgery and epidemiology Dorry L. Segev, M.D, Ph.D. fought tirelessly for six year to make this possible. According to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, HIV was the only condition absolutely banned, but the Act was drawn up during a time when the AIDS epidemic was considered untreatable and indisputably fatal. Today, however, it is a manageable chronic disease.

According to research published in the American Journal of Transplantation in 2011, approximately 1,000 lives could be saved each year if the prohibition was lifted, as it would make 500 to 600 eligible donors.

“The need for organs can often be more urgent for those with HIV,” Sergev said. According to him, HIV often patients also have various other co-infections. Many have hepatitis and kidneys are needed by those who also have hypertension and diabetes or complications from HIV or the antiretroviral drugs that control the virus.

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities and people with HIV, called the transplants a “triumph of science over stigma.” According to her, “The change in law and policy to catch up with what medicine can do for people is a huge step forward,” she said. “The lives and the quality of life of hundreds will be affected every year.”

Read more about the transplant here, here, and here.

Students Binge Drink Less in Locales with More Affirmative LGBTQ School Climates

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

New research from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Health indicates an association with the frequency of binge-drinking and LGBTQ-affirmative schools. They found that both heterosexual and gay/lesbian students report less binge alcohol consumption when the environment they live in have a high proportion of schools with programs that support LGBTQ youth.

Researchers analyzed students’ drinking behavior with data collected from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the team determined each school’s overall climate toward LGBTQ students using the School Health Profile survey. Environments were considered more affirmative if they had higher proportions of schools that have gay-straight alliances, encourage LGBTQ-related professional development workshops, and provide inclusive sexual health curricula, in addition to other programs or policies that provide supportive and accepting environments for LGBTQ students.

According to lead author Mr. Robert W.S. Coulter, a doctoral student in Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, “Schools that are more affirming of LGBTQ students may be less stressful environments or foster healthy emotional resilience for all students, thereby making them less likely to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism.”

Read the full article here.

UF HSC Library Exhibit: Surviving and Thriving

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

The University of Florida Health Science Center Libraries will host an exhibit in the library the National Library of Medicine entitled, “Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture” from May 20 – July 10, 2016.  The exhibit takes its name from the title of a book written in 1987  that focused on living with AIDS. The exhibit focuses on the experiences of people with AIDS who were critical in the political and medical fight against AIDS. The library is located in the Communicore Building on the University of Florida campus.

Several events have been planned around this exhibit, including  a presentation at the Alachua County Library District Headquarters Branch, 401 E. University Ave., in Gainesville, Fl. (In early June, Date TBA), by Dr. Tess Jones of the University of Colorado at Denver.

Information on additional events (are scheduled to be available by COB next Thursday) at

Tax alcohol, decrease gonorrhea?

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

In 2011, Maryland increased its state alcohol taxes. Since then, gonorrhea rates have shown a 24% decrease.

UF Health researchers used data from the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System for 102 months before the tax increase and 18 months after. They compared the trends in sexually transmitted diseases to three different groups of other states –ones with similar alcohol sales methods with no tax increase, ones with similar trends in STDs, and Rhode Island to account for regional effects.

“If policymakers are looking for methods to protect young people from harmful STIs, they should consider raising alcohol taxes, which have decreased remarkably over the years due to inflation,” said Stephanie Staras, Ph.D., MSPH, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and policy and the study’s lead researcher.

Prior studies have shown that increases in alcohol taxes decrease alcohol consumption this consequently reduces risky sexual behavior. In 2014, the rate of infection from gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis increased substantially nationwide, and young people accounted for nearly two-thirds of the cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia. This UF Health study is one of the first to quantify the effect of alcohol taxes on the rate of sexually transmitted infections.

Read the full article by Elizabeth Hillaker Downsfrom The Post here.


Columbia Grand Rounds Features U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

On Wednesday, March 23, 2016 Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health will host Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, MD, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy as part of the school’s March Grand Rounds event. Dr. Birx will speak on Global Health, HIV, and Health Systems.

Ambassador Birx oversees the implementation of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), as well as all U.S. Government engagement with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Throughout her career, Dr. Birx has focused on HIV/AIDS immunology, vaccine research, and global health. Read more about Dr. Birx here.

The lecture is open to the public and also broadcast live online. Participate using #FuturePublicHealth on Twitter. For more information on this talk and others, visit: Grand Rounds 2015-16.

In the News: Robert L. Cook, MD, MPH and Xingdi Hu, PhD

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized


Left to right: Robert L. Cook, MD, MPH, Taj Azarian, PhD, Xingdi Hu, PhD

This month, Professor Robert L. Cook, MD, MPH received word from recent epidemiology graduate Xingdi Hu, PhD that a manuscript on which they collaborated, with Dr. Hu as lead author, had been accepted for publication. The paper, entitled “Utilization of alcohol treatment among HIV-positive women with hazardous drinking,” will be published by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. In addition to the manuscript reflecting productive associations between epidemiology students and their research mentors, this publication marks Dr. Cook’s 100th peer-reviewed paper accepted for publication. Earlier this year Dr. Cook’s 90th such publication was in collaboration with lead author and recent epidemiology graduate Taj Azarian, PhD. These two mentees, along with yet another recent grad Wajiha Akhtar-Khaleel, PhD, published five collaborative papers with Dr. Cook in the past year.

HIV Treatment and Substance Use Seminar

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

On Friday, February 19, Dr. Cook gave a seminar with updates on the results of the Florida Cohort entitled, “Does Alcohol and Marijuana Use Correlate with HIV Treatment Engagement and Viral Supression for Persons Living with HIV in Florida?”

Alcohol and marijuana use are common in people living with HIV (PLWH), but it is challenging to identify a “cutpoint” for harmful use. The relationship to the outcomes may vary depending on the mechanism (behavioral or biological). Dr. Cook concluded that there is a need to demonstrate an ability to improve HIV outcomes with substance use intervention.

HIV Peer Navigator Program at the Alachua County Department of Health

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized


Left to right: Dr. Robert Cook, Ms. Marvene Edwards, Ms. Gay Koehler-Sides

alachua-chd-10_clrOn Thursday, Febraury 18, 2016, we welcomed Marvene Edwards and Gay Koehler-Sides, M.P.H., C.P.H. as they joined us for our biweekly SHARC meeting.

Ms. Edwards is an HIV/AIDS Peer Navigator at the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County.  She was diagnosed in 1987 with HIV and is dedicated to tearing down any stigma associated with HIV. Ms. Edwards also leads the Positives Empowering Positives (PEP) club.

Ms. Koehler-Sides is the Area 3/13 HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator at the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County.  Ms. Koehler-Sides is dedicated to helping curb the spread of HIV.

We had a round table discussion about the Peer Navigator program in Area 3/13 and the different strategies used to connect with people. The program aims support HIV-positive individuals as they enter and stay in care, adhere to treatment protocols, and improve their quality of life. We looked at the number of persons living with HIV (PLWH) that were engaged in stages of the continuum of HIV care. About 84% of those diagnosed with HIV in 2014 had documented HIV-related care within 3 months of diagnosis. About 80% in care had a suppressed viral load in 2014.