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Pinch Hitter Hits Home Run
Diggs Lecturer Francis Explores AIDS, Other STDs

By Dr. Roland Owens

Dr. Henry L. "Skip" Francis, director, Center on AIDS and Other Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse, National Institute on Drug Abuse, delivered the fifth annual John Diggs Lecture recently to a standing-room-only crowd in Wilson Hall. Based on the lively question and answer period following the lecture, his seminar, titled "Beyond AIDS: STDs in the New Millennium," clearly struck a chord with the audience, many of whom were NIH summer students. The scheduled keynote speaker, Dr. Helene Gayle of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was forced to cancel, due to a personal emergency.

Dr. Henry L. Skip Francis Dr. Henry L. "Skip" Francis

Francis enthralled the audience as he explained that he was part of a team in Zaire in the early 1980's that determined, based on the age distribution of AIDS patients, that AIDS was probably a sexually transmitted disease (STD), rather than one spread by insects. He stunned the audience with statistics such as the estimate that 60 percent of young women ages 18-25 in the U.S. may have chlamydia and many do not know it. Francis stated that STDs other than AIDS cause more morbidity worldwide than AIDS, costing hundreds of millions of health care dollars for things such as antibiotic and antiviral treatments, liver transplants (for sexually transmitted viral hepatitis) and infertility treatments (for STDs that damage reproductive organs). The saddest thing, he said, is that most of this misery and expense can be prevented. Francis said STD prevention messages promoting either abstinence or "safe sex" are most effective when delivered to 8-12 year old children, but there is often community resistance to sex education at such a young age.

Following Francis's seminar, approximately 60 students formed discussion groups led by NIH scientists on such topics as "Training and Research Opportunities in Infectious Diseases" (led by Dr. Milton Hernandez of NIAID), "Basic Research on the Herpes Simplex Virus" (led by Dr. Rona LeBlanc of NIAID), "New Frontiers in AIDS Research" (led by Dr. Patricia D'Souza of NIAID), "STD's Education and Prevention" (led by Michelle Johnson, NIH Scholar, Howard Hughes Medical Institute), and "Infectious Etiology of Chronic Diseases" (led by Dr. Christopher Taylor of NIAID).

The event was cosponsored by the speakers bureau of the NIH Black Scientists Association, NIAID's Office of Special Populations and Research Training, the NIAID minority scientists advisory committee, NINDS, the NIH Office of Equal Opportunity, the NIH Office of the Director, and the Recreation and Welfare Association. The Diggs Lecture was started in 1995 to celebrate the life and legacy of the late Dr. John W. Diggs, former NIH deputy director for extramural research.

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