ECU faculty member elected to global AIDS organization board

An ECU College of Nursing faculty member will help to shape the research and treatment of HIV and AIDS worldwide over the next three years after being elected to the board of directors for nursing’s preeminent AIDS organization.

College of Nursing Associate Professor and Executive Director of Program Evaluation Dr. Donna Roberson was elected to the board of directors for the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC), an international organization with more than 2,200 members from 60 countries.

The organization aims to promote the professional development of nurses treating patients who are infected or affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and to promote the health and welfare of those infected. Roberson has been dedicated to that mission for decades.

“ANAC as an organization is important to me, not only as a venue to disseminate my research but to learn about other people’s research and learn about innovations and care,” Roberson said. “It’s a really cutting-edge organization and opportunity.”

Roberson began treating patients infected with HIV/AIDS while working as a nurse, and became more interested in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections while working in college health.

“My very first patient with ‘failed immune system,’ which later we knew as AIDS, was in the summer of 1986,” Roberson said. “I was a brand new medical-surgical floor nurse and cared for a 17-year-old who died from AIDS. His family had abandoned him. I have cared for patients living with HIV ever since.”

As she began pursuing her doctorate and working on an HIV prevention study with her dissertation chair at UNC-Chapel Hill, Roberson’s interest in the treatment of HIV and AIDS grew.

“Being involved and working with (dissertation chair Cathie Fogel) made me interested in doing research — rather than on all sexually transmitted infections, focusing on HIV,” Roberson said.

Roberson, whose three-year term on the board began in November, became involved with the ANAC in 2008 and has served on the nominating committee and as a reviewer for research abstracts for the organization.

She is also on the editorial board for the ANAC’s professional journal, JANAC. She will be joined on the board by her College of Nursing colleague, Clinical Associate Professor Debra Kosko, who has accepted an invitation to serve for a three-year term beginning in 2018.

Deborah Bowers, a senior nurse manager at the Alexandria Health Department in Virginia and a collaborator with Roberson on multiple AIDS-related articles and presentations, said Roberson is a perfect fit for the board.

“I was so glad when Donna was elected to ANAC’s board of directors, because I have always seen her as a brilliant, accomplished and generous mentor and clinician as well as a great champion of patients and the community – who I know will consider the best interests of patients, while adhering to the evidence-based research that supports the work of ANAC,” Bowers said.

Part of what drives Roberson’s interest in the subject is that despite how prominent the virus has become since its discovery in 1983, infection rates continue to grow among certain demographics.

“Infection rates are increasing particularly in women in the southeastern United States, particularly poor women of color,” she said. “They’re acquiring HIV through heterosexual contact, and that’s 100 percent preventable.”

Roberson said infection rates are also growing among adults in their 50s and 60s.

“With an older person, the last time they were on the dating scene HIV wasn’t a big deal, but as their partners or spouses have passed away they’re going back into the dating world. They’re not worried about pregnancy, so they’re not using condoms. They’re really unaware they’re engaged in risky behaviors … so there’s a tremendous need for prevention education and research.”

In addition to teaching a class in the College of Nursing’s midwifery education program and a graduate-level core class, Roberson provides lectures to undergraduate and graduate students on HIV and tuberculosis prevention and care.

“We’re very proud to have Dr. Roberson representing the College of Nursing as a member of the board of directors for such an immensely important organization,” said Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing. “The work done by the ANAC is leading the way for nursing research of HIV and AIDS care that helps us to better prepare our own future nurses and that benefits patients around the globe.”