"HIV CASES ON THE RISE” a recent edition of our local daily screamed in 48-point type. Behind the alarming headline — and the alarm is real and appropriate — lay another story, voiced in part by King William neighbor Dr. Barbara Taylor: a story of compassion, progress, and hope.
As clinician, researcher, and teacher — she is associate professor in infectious diseases at UT Health San Antonio and adjunct faculty at the UT School of Public Health — Taylor focuses on prevention and management of HIV infections. The rate of new HIV infections is in decline nationally but still rising in Bexar County, especially in populations underserved by medical care. While infection with the virus was effectively a death sentence when it first emerged in the 1980s, modern therapies can suppress both transmission of HIV and progression to AIDS — if patients are aware of treatment options and receive consistent care.“My patients are super inspiring to me,” Taylor said. “They face so much and come out determined to live, support their families, engage with the community. It’s amazing.”
Her interest in the intersection of health and social factors began in her undergraduate years, after which she received a Fulbright scholarship to study indoor air pollution in rural Mexico. “I’d studied Spanish in school, but this was full immersion in the language,” she said. Her interest in HIV treatment was stimulated when, as a student at Harvard Medical School, she took a course on medicine and social justice from Paul Farmer and Jim Yong Kim, legendary co-founders of the global nonprofit Partners in Health. “I had no idea [at first] what rock stars they were, but it became clear during the course as they changed everyone’s way of thinking about the world,” Taylor said. She began to study approaches to delivery of HIV treatment, first in Cuba and then, during her residency at Columbia University Medical Center, in the Dominican Republic.
Because of this research experience and her fluency in Spanish, Taylor was recruited by UT Health (then UTHSCSA) in 2009. She and her husband Michael — a finance educator known for his trenchant Bankers Anonymous blog and his regular column in the business pages of the SA Express-News and the Houston Chronicle — were starting a family and ready for a change from Manhattan. Their first impression of life in San Antonio was rather less urban than they’d hoped, however, as a well-meaning real estate agent gave them a tour of the outer suburbs where the “good schools are.” Fortunately, a member of the search committee, the late Dr. Andy Diehl, alerted them to King William and, crucially, to the bilingual program at Bonham Academy. Hosted by Andy and Nancy Diehl, the Taylors explored the neighborhood and fell in love. They initially lived in the St. Benedict Lofts but soon found their current home on Crofton Avenue. Both of their daughters have attended Bonham, and Taylor calls herself “pro-SAISD.”
Stopping an epidemic is an intricate combination of science, clinical practice, social policy, and public outreach. Some forms of outreach are large: Taylor co-chaired the Fast Track Cities Initiative Convening Meeting this past October, at which both San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff committed to a coordinated effort to halt the spread of HIV. We join more than 70 cities around the world in a shared goal of ensuring that at least 90% of residents infected with HIV are aware of their status and receive the latest therapies to prevent transmission of the virus and development of disease. In a lighter form of outreach, Taylor was also recently quoted by Cosmopolitan magazine on the risk of infection from public toilet seats (relatively slight, but remember to wash your hands!).
“When I entered medical school and became interested in HIV care, most people were dying, and those who were living had to take mountains of toxic pills every day to control the virus,” Taylor said. “Now, my patients and friends living with HIV can take one pill once a day and live a normal life span. I’m not that old, but even in the short time I’ve been around, I’ve seen what science and evidence-based medicine can do. It gives me endless hope that the world will be better in five or ten years than it is today.”
- Jack Kent
For more information:
Dr. Taylor's faculty profile: profiles.uthscsa.edu/?pid=profile&id=2L90R6U5F
San Antonio Fast Track Cities Initiative: www.sanantonio.gov/Portals/0/Files/health/News/Reports/Fast-TrackCitiesSAReporttoCommunity.pdf?ver=2017-12-07-090036-390