Dr. Ariane Alimenti, a pediatric HIV expert and clinical assistant professor in the division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics at UBC, has been an invaluable member of BC Women's Hospital Oak Tree Clinic for 20 years. She has cared for children impacted by HIV since the beginning of the HIV epidemic and, together with the Oak Tree team, has provided specialized care for women living with HIV and their children before, during, and after pregnancy for prevention of vertical transmission.
Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Alimenti, along with her interdisciplinary team, coordinated a Canadian surveillance program of HIV vertical transmission. She investigated the long-term effects of living with HIV and the effects of medications on bone health for children and adolescents living with HIV in BC. Her research has also investigated the potential long-term health effects of children exposed to anti-HIV drugs in utero who are born to mothers living with HIV.
This International Women's Day, Dr. Alimenti reflects on a fulfilling career with gratitude for everything past and enthusiasm for the future.
I started my pediatric residency in Brussels in 1985 and at the time we were seeing more and more HIV infected mothers and children at our inner-city hospital. It was the beginning of the HIV epidemic in Europe, mirroring the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa. These were very hard times, 10 years before combined antiretroviral therapy effectively started to improve the prognosis (1996); patients were suffering from progressive immune suppression and severe illness, inevitably leading to hospitalization and death. We had little means of preventing vertical transmission, which affected up to one in four infants.
In 1997, our family moved to Vancouver when my husband was recruited by the University of British Columbia to head the endocrinology team at BC Children's Hospital. I was fortunate to join Dr. Jack Forbes at the Oak Tree Clinic, that he and Dr. David Burdge had co-founded in 1994, soon to be joined by obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Deborah Money, in response to the needs of women and children affected by HIV in BC. They were pioneers in their vision of an interdisciplinary clinic that addressed the medical and psycho-social needs of these families in a culturally sensitive, family-oriented, women-centred way, all under one roof.
Since then, the team has expanded to include other allied health professionals who each play an essential and deeply personal and compassionate role in patients' lives. Under the leadership of Dr. Neora Pick for the last 10 years, the team has continued to adjust to the ongoing demands of a very diverse population of patients facing a multitude of challenges and traumas related to the intergenerational effects of colonialism, systemic racism and HIV stigmatization that disproportionately affect Indigenous and Black people in the province. In 2021, 35 years in, HIV has become a chronic disease, and patients continue to need support as they grow, transition to adult care and age with HIV.
For people living with HIV, I am grateful for the life-changing medical advances made in the last 25 years, especially the antiretroviral therapies. These combination therapies (provided free to BC patients through the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS) have transformed a fatal illness into a chronic, manageable condition: today, life expectancy for people living with HIV is similar to that of the general population. With a risk of vertical transmission well below one per cent, women receiving HIV care have uninfected children. And the treatments also effectively prevent sexual transmission of HIV.
Personally, I am extremely grateful to have met a number of amazing children and parents over the years. Being part of a family's circle of care for one, 10 or 20 years has created strong ties. I have immense respect for all the colleagues whose expertise and inspiration I leaned on every day at the clinic: the pharmacists, nurses, NPs, social workers, dietitians, counselors, obstetricians, psychiatrists, clinic aides, receptionists and research staff alike. I learned so much from everyone. Being part of the Oak Tree Clinic team for 20 years has been a rich adventure.
On the 25th anniversary of the Oak Tree Clinic. Left to right: Dr. Jan Christilaw, Dr. Neora Pick, Dr. David Burdge Dr. Ariane Alimenti, Dr. Jack Forbes and Dr. Deborah Money
When looking for ways to empower youth living with a chronic condition such as HIV to gain independence and control over their health, I learned that there is nothing like enabling connections with their peers. Which is why we work in close partnership with YouthCO to offer opportunities for youth to mingle, have fun and learn at Camp Moomba or during youth clinics. We all hope these connections can be offered again in person in a few months, when the COVID-19 risks decrease with mass vaccination.
I would challenge our society to do more to prevent the devastating effects of prenatal exposure of alcohol and drugs in the future generations. Along with increasing supports for women in need, the effort could include encouraging women's achievements from an early age, raising awareness in schools and communities, taking action for equality everywhere.
"Dr. Ariane Alimenti has been a passionate leader who has made invaluable contributions to achieve the success and growth of the Oak Tree Clinic to better serve children, women and families over the years. She leaves a proud legacy of improvements and impacts in this field of health care, and we are so grateful for her extraordinary dedication throughout her amazing career! Best wishes on your retirement, Ariane!" - Cheryl Davies, Chief Operating Officer, BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre
"Ariane has been a champion for children and youth living with HIV and social disadvantage, provincially and nationally for over 20 years. She leaves an enduring legacy of compassionate excellence in caring for the health of these patients. Her kindness, warmth, passionate teaching, dedication and sense of humor, will be missed! We wish her all the best in her new life chapter." - Neora Pick, Medical Director, Oak Tree Clinic, BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre
"I have been so grateful for her mentorship over the last 10 years; I have learned a great deal from her. She is a passionate advocate for children living with HIV, whether it's supporting their summer camp program at Camp Moomba, advocating for peer support or providing kind, supportive and thoughtful patient care." - Dr. Laura Sauvé, pediatric infectious disease specialist, BC Children's Hospital
Dr. Ariane Alimenti is retiring from BC Women's Hospital's Oak Tree Clinic and moving on to the next chapter in her life. Thank you Dr. Alimenti for your years of dedication and the impactful legacy that you leave at BC Women's.