Island University Professors Research HIV/AIDS, Present at Star-Studded International Conference

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – With approximately 37 million people worldwide currently living with HIV/AIDS and 1 million people dying from AIDS-related illnesses each year, a cure for the virus could save countless lives. Scientists, activists, and leaders from all over the world have set an ambitious goal of finding a cure for AIDS by 2030, and two Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi nursing professors are making a meaningful impact toward that mission. Dr. Mary Jane Hamilton and Dr. Liz Sefcik have each taken a holistic approach to researching persons living with HIV (PLHIV).

“We find researching holistically to be so crucial because the mind, body, and spirit all interact in health,” Hamilton said. “When we decrease in one area, we have a subsequent decrease in the rest.”

Hamilton’s research project investigates how stigma relates to PLHIV and its correlation with negative physical health. These health issues include fatigue and pain; mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression; and social health issues, including ones’ ability to form relationships with others.

“Sadly, PLHIV often view themselves, or are viewed by others, as ‘tainted,’” Hamilton said. “They struggle with telling their families and co-workers about their status and my desire with this study is to help PLHIV develop ways to reduce or eliminate stigma which will therefore increase their physical and psycho/social quality of life.”

PLHIV often suffer from a variety of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes and mental health disorders, so the purpose of Sefcik’s study is to examine the relationship between co-morbidities (diseases), physical activity and exercise levels in PLHIV.

“Exercise is important because it produces endorphins that help fight off infections, which is crucial because PLHIV develop chronic diseases earlier and more often than people without HIV,” Sefcik said. “Knowing which diseases affect their ability to exercise gives us a basis for researching approaches to improve their activity levels.”

The pair are proud to be a part of International Nursing Network for HIV/AIDS Research. Members of the organization help each other’s research through collaboration and data gathering with a goal of discovering better practices for quality of life and symptom management in HIV/AIDS patients.

“These are really outstanding researchers,” said Hamilton. “They’re all leaders in their fields and their excitement and support has been wonderful.”

Hamilton and Sefcik recently presented their projects at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) held July 23-27 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. AIDS 2018 was themed “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges,” and hosted nearly 17,000 people from more than 180 countries. Speakers for the conference included Prince Harry, Elton John, Charlize Theron, and former President Bill Clinton. As a forum for scientist, advocates, and activists for human rights, and the largest conference on any global health issue in the world, the AIDS 2018 was the perfect platform for their research to be heard by the right ears to make the biggest impact.

“It was a wonderful honor to present our research,” said Sefcik. “Especially since only around 30 percent of the 8,000 submissions were selected.”