The Maryland Women's Hall of Fame has inducted University of Maryland School of Medicine pediatrician Ligia Peralta, MD, for her pioneering and indefatigable efforts to fight the HIV epidemic among young people.
Peralta, an associate professor and chief of the School's Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, is widely recognized for addressing health disparities of HIV-infected and vulnerable adolescents. She has created innovative programs to provide adolescents with access to primary care services and research. She has contributed her ideas to the U.S. Congress, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and other major national and international organizations.
E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, dean of the School of Medicine, said Peralta is an excellent academician as well as an excellent community advocate. "Such a combination is very unusual and she has done this both in Baltimore and abroad," Reece says.
In Maryland, she developed the "One Stop Shopping" model of service for adolescent and young adults. The model includes anonymous, confidential, and free HIV testing and a comprehensive battery of examinations and specialized counseling on sexual abuse, drug abuse and treatments, medications, dental care, psychosocial issues, and the sex and drug abuses in human trafficking. "We are seeing most young people coming to us who don't even recognize what human trafficking is," says Peralta.
"Her model," Reece says, "has been successful in engaging and retaining youth in care and has been recognized as a national and international model of care."
Peralta also is expanding her collaborations internationally to fight HIV in adolescents, including setting up a new program in Guyana. In her native Dominican Republic, she spearheaded the national HIV agenda, including prevention and treatment programs.
Peralta spoke at the annual Middle East Pediatrics Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in January 2009, the first time the conference included an adolescent health care speaker. She provided input to that country's HIV programs and was honored with a visiting professorship at Rashid Hospital in Dubai.
At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 29 at the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, Peralta told an audience of about 450 people, "I am honored to accept this award on behalf of all the infected children. They taught me the true meaning of determining to persevere in the worst of circumstances. Their strength and courage inspired my science."
Peralta also is founder and director of the Adolescent "STAR TRACK" Program at the School, which offers outreach, education, and prevention services to youth, young adults, and their communities. Activities include health education programs, peer training, teen leadership events, prevention services (individual and group), health promotion campaigns, an HIV prevention hot line, free and anonymous HIV testing services, and community mobilization. "STAR TRACK engages young people to take control of their health on their own terms," she says.
"I can't think of anybody more deserving for this honor," says William Meyer III, technical director of Quest Diagnostics in Baltimore. "Just a wonderful human being overall and it is a testament to the University that she is there."
Reece, who is also vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, adds, "Her excellence is part of an excellent team fighting HIV at the School of Medicine that includes Dr. Robert Gallo, director of our Institute of Human Virology and co-discoverer of HIV."
In Baltimore, in addition to the outpatient Evelyn Jordan Center for HIV patients, the School runs the Adolescent and Young Adult Center, where Peralta is chief of the clinic.
She is also the clinic core director in a $12.2 million National Institutes of Health funded Chlamydia study. For the first time, the study pairs basic scientists with clinicians to examine how the genomics of sexually transmitted disease agent Chlamydia change as the bacteria interacts with other microbes in their natural environment, the human body.
"The uniqueness is that we have combined a clinical trial with the care and community outreach, too. We go out to educate the patients' communities," she says.
The Maryland Women's Hall of Fame was established in 1985 through the efforts of the Maryland Commission for Women and the Women Legislators of Maryland to honor women who have made unique and lasting contributions to the economic, political, cultural, and social life of the state and are role models of achievement.