Miller School Marks World AIDS Day with Mobile Outreach Expansion

Article Summary
  • The Miller School now has four mobile vans that offer HIV outreach services, including information about clinical studies, to South Florida.
  • Infectious Diseases Chief Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, M.D., says the fleet provides a crucial and convenient extension of the Miller School’s and UHealth—University of Miami Health System clinical offerings.
  • Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, a major outreach target, celebrated the day with a party that included HIV awareness activities.

Infectious disease experts with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine commemorated World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 by announcing the expansion of their fleet of mobile vans and showcasing the vehicles and outreach teams that provide communities with lifesaving services.

The Miller School now has four specially-designed mobile units that provide HIV outreach. The first van debuted in 2017 with clean needle exchange and a host of services for substance users.

HIV Services for South Florida

HIV remains a major public health issue, and Miami has long been the epicenter of the nation’s epidemic. Mobile outreach is instrumental in reaching communities for testing, rapid care, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), wound care and much more.

“This is a really an exciting effort with trying to get out of the clinics and out of the hospitals with what we know works for HIV treatment and prevention,” said Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, M.D., chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of HIV prevention at UHealth—University of Miami Health System and the Miller School.

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's HIV outreach mobile units, parked in Liberty City.
The Miller School’s fleet of HIV outreach mobile units provides critical services to South Florida.

Dr. Doblecki-Lewis and her team run the Rapid Access Wellness (RAW) mobile unit, an extension of UHealth’s PrEP clinic that provides prevention and rapid screening and care.

The HIV outreach fleet includes the IDEA Exchange van, led by Hansel Tookes, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of infectious diseases at the Miller School and founder of the Exchange, Florida’s first needle exchange program. Providing comprehensive services aimed at harm reduction among injection drug users, the Exchange mobile unit transformed care for a forgotten and overlooked population.

Through a successful partnership, the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Game Changer mobile van also includes HIV and hepatitis screening as part of its mobile outreach.

CONNECTing People to HIV Research

The Miller School recently debuted its latest van, the CONNECT mobile unit, led by Maria Alcaide, M.D., professor of medicine at the Miller School. With access to a large and diverse population of people impacted by HIV and AIDS, CONNECT is the first unit solely dedicated to enrolling and retaining individuals in important HIV-related research studies.

Attendees at the 2023 Liberty City World AIDS Day outreach block party.
Liberty City residents at the Liberty Square Community Center during the neighborhood block party.

Miller School public health experts and physician scientists have long been on the frontlines of combating HIV and reaching diverse communities with tailored messaging and aggressive outreach.

In the Liberty City neighborhood, a major target area for outreach, health workers and community partners with the Community-Based HIV Awareness for Minority Populations (CHAMP) program held a vibrant block party, where residents young and old enjoyed food, music, and contests, as well as recreational and educational activities centered on HIV awareness.

Led by Sonjia Kenya, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, the Miller School team has made remarkable strides in engaging the community with testing and education on sexual health to prevent the spread of HIV.

“It’s inspiring to see our annual World AIDS Day block party has grown into Liberty City’s biggest community celebration of the year,” said Dr. Kenya, also associate director of the Behavioral Science Core at the Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), among other roles. “Witnessing hundreds of local volunteers, teenagers and local residents partying together to increase HIV awareness and honor those lost to the struggle brought tears of joy and demonstrated that together we can end HIV stigma and become healthier together.”

Tags: Dr. Hansel Tookes, Dr. Sonjia Kenya, Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, HIV, HIV PrEP, HIV prevention