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Hospitalised as a child sparked interest in medicine that has today placed her among the elite group of scientists in the race for HIV cure.
Deborah Persaud was born in Guyana on August 23, 1960. She migrated to the United States (U.S) at age 16 with her three sisters and single mother. In an interview, done seven years ago with Carib Nation, she stated that her interest in medicine started at about 10-year-old when she was hospitalised, for several weeks, in an open ward in Guyana. She said medicine had an impact on her and helped shape her life. Dr. Persaud credits her pursuit in medicine to her experiences as a child and her mother, who was uneducated, and to the many individuals who were involved in shaping her life.
She recounted that she was a medical student in New York in the 1980s when the virus was raging and wanted to be part of finding a cure. She graduated from New York University School of Medicine (1985); and did her residency in pediatrics at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center (1989). Deborah is also a Certificated Member (1994) of the American Board of Pediatrics (Pediatric Infectious Diseases); and has participated in several researches and her work documented in several publications.
Mother-to-child HIV transmission
Dr. Persaud has been part of the world’s clinical team that has been doing research on HIV, with particular emphasis on mother-to-child transmission. Her expertise is in Pediatric Infectious Disease. In her work she has overseen development of the clinical trials pipeline for the cure under the aegis of the National Institutes Health (NIH)-International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials (IMPAACT). She also used her lab as a sub-specialty for NIH-sponsored prevention and cure clinical trials targeting perinatal and adult HIV infections.
She is presently serving as Interim Director, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, and Professor of Pediatrics at the John Hopkins, Maryland, having joined the staff in 1997. According to the hospital’s website her research interests are in Mother-to-child HIV transmission; HIV latency, HIV pathogenesis and cure therapeutics for infants, children and adolescents; SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis in children. The goal of her focus is ultimately to see the remission of the virus and cure.
HIV is a “scary diagnosis”
Whilst Dr. Persaud admitted to Carib Nation, HIV is “scary diagnosis” she also counselled that today the medical profession knows how to treat the virus. She noted that though a cure has not been found and the origin of the virus unknown, people are living with HIV/AIDS. With strict compliance to antiretroviral therapy (ART), i.e. a combination of drugs, and proper lifestyle practices people are living a full life. Use of the therapy has seen the viral load in infected persons becoming so low that the virus becomes undetectable with a test. ART also has the potential to decrease sexual transmission of HIV Type 1.
The U.S Department of Veteran’s Affairs (website) advises that “Although HIV can pass from a woman with HIV to her child during pregnancy, at the time of birth, or when breast-feeding the infant, medical treatment of both the mother and her infant can minimise the chances of that happening.”
Advice on HIV and education
Deborah’s message to the infected is:- “seek treatment and stay on treatment because it is lifesaving” To women, her message is:- “get treatment for yourself, you’ll save the family structure, the economic structure of the society.” She warns that there is no vaccine for HIV and prevention is key to curtailing the epidemic.
And whilst she acknowledged that the studies to become a medical doctor require tedious work, her advice to young medical students is to stay focused because education is the key to success.
Awards, recognitions, membership and sense of self
For her work in HIV medicine Deborah received the Doris Duke Clinician Scientist Award (1999); Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Award (2005); Time magazine “100 Most Influential People” (2013); Caribbean American Heritage Award (2013); and “Ten People Who Mattered This Year” (2013). Deborah also holds membership in the Infectious Diseases Society of America; Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and International AIDS Society.
Dr. Persaud told Carib Nation that her success, coming from Guyana to the medical pinnacle she sits today, typifies the “American Dream.” She noted, however, that family, community service and sense of self have played an incredible role in influencing who she is. And among that influence was life in Guyana which she said that although simple was rich compared to the complex situations experienced in the U.S.
Source- the internet