CHAPEL HILL — An associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has been awarded the 2008 Marty Prairie Award.

Dr. Peter A. Leone, Credit: UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
Dr. Peter A. Leone, Credit: UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Presented to Peter Leone, M.D., by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services HIV/STD Prevention and Care Branch, the Prairie Award honors individuals or organizations whose work with HIV and other STDS “exhibits distinguished, bold and innovative community service and/or advocacy that positively impacts North Carolina.”

Leone has appointments in the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He is also a member of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

The professor’s research and work spans across a wide continuum of HIV/AIDS related studies. In March 2008, he co-authored a Washington Post opinion piece in response to new statistics showing an alarming and disturbing upward trend in HIV infection rates among teens.

“Simply put, we will never rid the United States of HIV and other STDs if our only weapon is medical treatment,” the authors of the column said. “And if we are unable to engage in a national dialogue about the sexual health of our youths and the social dynamics that drive STDs, this epidemic will go largely ignored, and many more lives will be lost.”

IN June 2007, Leone was among several researchers appointed to a panel to examine HIV and STD trends, convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leone has also worked to bring attention to the rates of HIV and STD infection in young men who have sex with men (MSM), especially those on North Carolina’s college campuses. In a February 2007 presentation at East Chapel Hill High School, Leone laid out an argument against abstinence-only sex education in schools.

The practice, Leone said, created a “future at peril,” and that “abstinence is a good idea, [but] Abstinence Only may create risk for most vulnerable [youth].”

As far back as 2005, Leone was sounding the alarm on the increasing risk for youth, especially gay and MSM populations.

”The stigma of being gay drives kids into higher-risk behavior such as doing club drugs and engaging in anonymous sex,” he told The New York Times. ”There’s nowhere for them to go to explore their sexuality safely.”

He added, ”We are seeing this huge outbreak among young black men who don’t view themselves as at risk, and we’re not doing a good job of delivering the message that they are.”

Leone’s award is named after Marty Prairie, a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor who died in 2001. Prairie was an educator and prevention worker on HIV/AIDS and other STDs among communities of color and gay people.