Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera of the University of Miami

Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera of the University of Miami Department of Infectious Diseases discusses: “What is New With HIV/HCV?”

The Rotary Club of Miami Dadeland-Pinecrest’s own Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera gave a presentation about the world’s AIDS and Hepatitis C epidemics on Monday, April 23rd. Dr. J, as we call him, was born and raised in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo. He received his MD from the University of Colombo’s Medical School in 1976. He received further medical training in the United Kingdom and the United States. He is licensed to practice medicine in Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the two states of Illinois and Florida. He has taught in medical schools in Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1992, he joined the faculty of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, where he rapidly rose through the ranks to become a full Professor of Clinical Medicine. Dr. J is an internationally-recognized scholar, authoring and co-authoring more than 200 publications during his medical career. However, his contributions to humanity transcend his scholarship through his many pro bono efforts toward disaster relief in places such as Sri Lanka (affected by the Tsunami in 2004) and Haiti (the Earthquake 2010). Dr. J has championed the cause of less fortunate people through use of his medical skills for more than three decades and is a true humanitarian. For these efforts, he has received numerous awards, including one from our Rotary Club the day he gave his presentation.

Dr. J told us that the most recent estimate is that there are about 36 million people in the world who are currently HIV positive. Almost 70 percent of these people live in Africa and about 1.5 million live in North America (the U.S. and Canada). More than 20 million persons have died of AIDS since it was detected during the 1970s. In the United States, almost 60 percent of the cases are transmitted through male-to-male sexual contact, approximately 28 percent through heterosexual contact, and about 8 percent through intravenous drug abuse. The highest infection rates are found in the states of Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, New York, and New Jersey, respectively. Although hundreds of thousands of both males and females are HIV positive, in the U.S. the incidence rate among males is almost 4 times what it is among females. African Americans have by far the highest rate, followed distantly by Hispanics and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders. The lowest rates are found among Asians and Non-Hispanic whites in the Untied States. Dr. J said the good news is that, although a cure for AIDS has not yet been achieved, it can be contained, especially in more developed countries like the United States. New antiretroviral drugs can now allow infected persons to live full-length lives, although the treatment is expensive, and therefore beyond reach of most people living in poorer countries. Today, in the U.S., about half the people who are HIV positive die from causes not related to AIDS, such as cancer, violence, heart disease, and respiratory disease.

Hepatitis C, a particularly virulent and damaging form of hepatitis, infects the liver and can cause cancer, as well as other diseases. About 25 percent of the people who have had an acute infection can defeat it, but the remaining 75 percent carry it for a long time, many for the rest of their lives. It is not a deadly as AIDS, but it is much more widespread throughout the world, with somewhere between 170 to 200 million cases currently being reported. The greatest number of cases are found in less developed countries, particularly those in East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. There are between 3 and 4 million cases in the United States. By far, the most common cause of this disease is intravenous drug abuse. It is highly contagious, and the second leading cause is unprotected sexual contact. Like HIV, Hepatitis C is much more common among America’s African American population than it is among either Non-Hispanic whites, Asians, and Hispanics. Dr. J noted that among the factors that speed the progression of this disease are excessive drinking of alcohol, smoking, being older than 40 years of age, and having a compromised immune system. As with HIV, new drugs have recently been developed that can slow the progression. Unlike HIV, if treated early, Hepatitis C can be cured.

Dr. J concluded his presentation with a discussion of his recent activities as a Rotarian working in a medical facility in Haiti, after the disastrous earthquake in 2010. He lived in a Shelter Box tent for almost two weeks while administering medial treatment to hundreds of Haitians in the finest tradition of Rotary. In fact, he was honored by doctor and medical CNN commentator Sanjay Gupta for his herculean work in that country.

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