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Michelle Floris-Moore, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and a member of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, delivered the 2024 Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture on June 20. Her presentation honored the trailblazing work of her mentor, the late Adaora Adimora, who was selected as the 2023 distinguished lecturer but was not able to present the lecture last year.

Michelle Floris-Moore with medical students in Roper Hall.

“We have a very talented faculty member, a professor of medicine and senior physician-scientist who works on HIV, and is particularly involved in health equity issues, who was recruited and mentored by Ada, to deliver this year’s distinguished lecture,” said Myron Cohen, MD, IGHID Director and the J. Herbert Bate Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology and Epidemiology, introducing Michelle Floris-Moore, MD, MPH.

“Ada was instrumental in my decision to come to UNC,” said Floris-Moore. She was incredibly generous and as you all know, a perfectly candid mentor. Working alongside her and really observing her remarkable work ethic–she published 250 papers–and her profound commitment to improving the well being of people living with HIV was an exceptional privilege. I am so grateful to the Berryhill Lecture committee for inviting me to share her highly influential body of work with you.”

“It was her early observations that motivated her work on disparities underlining disparities in HIV transmission and the impact of these factors on prevention and care for women and the south,” Floris-Moore explained, before playing an excerpt of Adimora talking from a podcast interview with Giselle Corbie, MD, MSc.

ada-adimora-berryhill-lecture“I can remember walking down Lenox Avenue in the late 80s, in NYC and Harlem. Every third person looked like they might have advanced HIV disease or was a heavy crack smoker, or both,” Adimora says. “I saw women, particularly here in North Carolina, who weren’t doing anything unusual. They didn’t have a lot of partners. They weren’t drug injecting users. I said what’s going on with black people? There’s something else.” (Podcast: A Different Kind of Leader– Giselle Corbie, MD, MSc)

Adimora’s observations paralled those that were being made in the field. She set out to investigate the contextual factors underlining disparities in HIV transmission, recognizing that individual risk behaviors do not explain the disparities in HIV prevalence.

She conducted a series of focused groups with people of African American ethnicity living in eastern North Carolina. And what she learned was that a lack of job opportunities, economic hardship, racism, residential segregation, and low numbers of men relative to women in the community really created an environment in which concurrent partnerships were common.

Adimora and her mentor Victor Schoenbach proposed that the differences in economic status contributed to but did not fully explain disparities in HIV rates. This was the start of groundbreaking research that would remain at the core of Adimora’s work.

“They contended that the structural factors that led to residential and socio-economic segregation, an underlining higher prevalence of NIV in the pool of sexual partnerships and racial and gender differences in concurrently sexual partnerships, permitted a more rapid spread of HIV and other STIs in those settings, and more fully explained the disparities in HIV rates,” said Floris-Moore.

“I often turned to Ada for guidance, and remember the response she offered Giselle in her podcast, when asked to describe a principle that guided her career,” said Floris-Moore.

“Do what you like, do what’s important, and do what’s right,” says Adimora in a recorded interview.

A reception followed the event in Roper Hall. A recording of the 39th Annual Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture can be found here.