Representatives from UCLA’s School of Public Health, the David Geffen School of Medicine, Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, and other groups joined AIDS Healthcare Foundation and other public health interest groups to explore the alarming rise of syphilis in Los Angeles County on Wednesday morning during the first installment of the ‘Health in LA’ series of public hearings.
The hearing, which was attended by UCLA students and faculty as well as the press and public health representatives, began with two expert presentations on syphilis. The first was by Dr. Cynthia Davis of the Charles Drew Health Center, who has over 25 years of experience working with underserved communities in South Los Angeles and is on the AHF Board of Directors. Dr. Gary Richwald, former director of the Los Angeles County STD Program through the County’s Department of Public Health, then discussed the epidemiology of the disease in LA County, where syphilis rates increased by 25% from 2010 to 2011.
Moderator Jeff Klausner, MD, MPH (Professor of Medicine and Public Health, Division of Infectious Diseases, Center for World Health and Department of Epidemiology, UCLA-David Geffen School of Medicine and Fielding School of Public Health) then led a vibrant discussion which included comments from Hearing Officers Paula Tavrow, PhD, Marjan Javanbakht, PhD, and Peter Kerndt, MD, all professors in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, as well as AHF President Michael Weinstein, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Director Dr. Robert Bolan, Senior Director of AHF Public Health Division Whitney Engeran-Cordova, Executive Director of In The Meantime Men Jeffrey King, and Jorge Montoya, formerly of the LA County Department of Public Health.
Much of the dialogue focused on a lack of leadership and initiative in the LA County Department of Public Health, a cause AHF has hoped to curb through encouraging the creation of a smaller, separate Public Health Department exclusively for the City of Los Angeles.
“Where is the leadership? What are we doing now to address syphilis? How will we look back on everything we did and allow syphilis to be on the rise again? I feel a little beaten down because even to get it down to the levels we saw in 2008 took so much work, so much energy by multiple people, and I feel like the leadership…has failed to continue to be vigilant, diligent, and leading us forward…to address this issue,” Montoya said in his comments. “For shame.”