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World AIDS Day – An interview with Section Editor Professor Limin Mao, discussing interdisciplinary HIV/AIDS research

In celebration of World AIDS Day, we interviewed Section Editor Limin Mao, Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney.

Each year, World AIDS Day takes place on December 1st. This year, the theme of the 35th commemoration of World AIDS Day is “Remember and Commit”. Globally, approximately 39 million people live with HIV and, due to stigma and discrimination, many people living with HIV (PLHIV) suffer from depression, anxiety and loneliness.

Dr. Mao is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney, Australia. She has extensive research experience in the following domains: the promotion of better clinical and self-management for people living with chronic infections and co-morbidity; the adaptation of established behavioral surveillance evidence in priority populations to inform prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care and support for people with blood-borne viral infections (e.g., HIV, HBV, HCV) and sexually transmitted infections; and monitoring and evaluation of complex behavioral change programs to promote health and wellbeing.

Clinically trained and qualified in Maternal and Child Health (Fudan University, Shanghai) originally, Dr Mao came to Australia and undertook her Master’s and PhD training in applied social behavioral sciences (Education and Social Psychology) in the early 2000s. She has since worked as a research academic at UNSW Sydney for two decades.

People living with HIV now have a longer life. However, they are not necessarily living a better quality of life.

Limin Mao

You have published papers addressing chronic health conditions such as HIV infection / AIDS since your time as PhD Student. What was it that originally attracted you to this topic, and has your motivation to pursue HIV research changed since then?

It was completely a ‘hit-n-miss’. Coming to Australia as a trained medical doctor, I wanted to purse postgraduate training at UNSW Sydney on applied social sciences. When I was completing my Masters in Education Administration (which was just a one-year-by-course degree), I completed a small research project on HIV/AIDS health promotion among youth refugees in Sydney with some hands-on field work training and experiences. My fascination with very different cultural and social representations of sex, relationships and health beyond individual desires, motivations and behavioral practices has lasted until today, I guess.

The HIV virus as the cause of AIDS was identified in 1984, and the first World’s AIDS Day took place in 1988. Research interest into HIV infections and AIDS has skyrocketed since then. What are, in your opinion, the most pressing issues in HIV/AIDS research that people should be aware of? But also, what are the most overlooked successes that give experts like you hope?

The most pressing issues in HIV/AIDS research now is the glaring health inequities borne by people in disadvantaged status, particularly when it comes to stigma and discrimination in the form of structural violence (i.e., denial of universal health service access, being treated as second-citizens) towards people living with stigmatized chronic conditions such as HIV. What gives and sustains my hope through my long-term involvement in HIV/AIDS research is the passion and expertise (lived experiences, wisdom) afforded by people living with HIV. Empowering and learning from these people are the wellspring of my own dedication to make the world a better place for them and for us all.

Your research spans a wide range of topics, from neurological impact to barriers to successful prevention and mental health consequences for people living with HIV. What would you consider are the main challenges facing the interdisciplinary field of HIV/AIDS research?

In the HIV/AIDS research area, with advanced and effective treatment and much holistic care, people living with HIV (PLHIV) now have a longer life (almost the same life expectancy as the general population if someone is diagnosed nowadays). However, they are not necessarily living a better quality of life. Fear of dying alone without adequate support and quality aged care becomes the growing concern among aging PLHIV worldwide. In my view, this is one of the priorities and key challenges, where our current often siloed systems (geriatric and palliative care, infectious disease control, end-of-life decision making support) are lagging far behind.

What would you consider the most important take-home message for researchers working on HIV/AIDS?

HIV is not a mere medical condition and hence, responses to the HIV epidemic are a concerted societal effort with the ultimate goal to minimize health and socioeconomic inequities.

What advice would you give to a young scientist interested in research on communicable diseases, and HIV in particular?

Multi-disciplinary training and real-life exposures and work experiences, either in a formal or informal learning environment, can take you far and beyond.

You have become a Section Editor for PLOS ONE. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your role?

I like the way PLOS ONE publishes across a wide range of topics (in my view, PLOS ONE does not see itself as an exclusive elitist publisher on a range of limited topics, which is really something!). My motivation to join the Editorial Board is to lead by my own examples to show authors worldwide that we can accept unique quality works by not being constrained in a few narrowly defined lens.

You have previously published with PLOS ONE. What do you see as the benefits of publishing with PLOS ONE and making your research Open Access?

Making research open access helps to spread and test our collective knowledge to where it is most needed (areas with the least resources but most in need for knowledge, services and collaboration).

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS


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