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STD Director Allen Wins GPHA Honor

April 14, 2014

Colleagues at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) know Michelle Allen as the “syphilis girl.” The name isn’t an insult – it’s a reflection of the dedication she has for fighting sexually transmitted disease (STD) throughout Georgia as the director of the state STD unit.

Michelle Allen (center) celebrates the Janet Stancliff Award with GPHA President-Elect Deborah Riner and GPHA President Dr. Kathryn Martin.

“Mine is not just a career, but a passion. I am blessed to serve in my current role,” she said.

Allen has been recognized nationwide for her work as a champion of STD prevention and awareness. In March, she earned a new accoladethe Georgia Public Health Association (GPHA) named her the winner of the Janet Stancliff Epidemiology Award. The honor is named for Janet Stancliff, a desk clerk in the state STD office who promoted the collection of critical data by epidemiologists statewide.

Allen said an award named for Stancliff is special because of her reputation as a dedicated worker and wonderful person.

“Ironically, her epidemiologic contributions were in the area of STDs,” Allen said. “The award is very special to me. It is a tremendous professional honor to be respected by your peers.”

Allen has served as the state’s STD director since 2010 after spending 14 years with the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness, Communicable Disease Prevention Branch.

Allen’s peers consider her work vital to reducing rates of STDs in Georgia, a state that bears a heavy burden of infection. Georgia’s rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis have been among the highest in the nation for the past several years. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Georgia ranked first among 50 states in primary and secondary syphilis with 9.5 cases per 100,000 people compared to the U.S. rate of 5.0.

Patrick O'Neal, M.D., DPH’s director of health protection, said Georgia is committed to addressing and reducing its rates of STDs, and there’s no better person to lead this effort than Allen.

“Michelle is known as one of the most outstanding and knowledgeable state STD directors in this country.  DPH is indeed fortunate to have such an acclaimed leader," he said. “She is capable of leading Georgia in our fight to educate and address the underlying issues and behaviors.”

For the last several years, Allen and her team have worked with partners at Fulton County’s Prevention Branch and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore to promote STD education in Georgia, especially in Atlanta. Programs like the Ask-Screen-Intervene program and the "What's New" program offered at the Morehouse School of Medicine have been very successful, said Terry Hogan, of the STD/HIV Prevention Training Center at Johns Hopkins.

“These programs owe a great amount of their success to Michelle's efforts to get the word out to her colleagues and other health care professionals throughout the state,” Hogan said.

Johns Hopkins also partnered with Allen’s DPH team and the Fulton County HIV Services Clinic to increase the risk assessment and STD screening among patients infected with HIV.

Allen continues to work with national and local partners to provide education on STDs for patients and health care providers alike. The “Basic STIs for Community Health Providers” class helps reach out to primary care providers in metropolitan and rural areas of Georgia to encourage them to collaborate with DPH.

Along with her role in Georgia, Allen is known for her leadership in STD prevention on a national level. She serves on the Advisory Board for Sexual Health at Johns Hopkins and the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD). In April 2013, Allen presented at a NCSD briefing at the U.S. Capitol, sharing data and details on addressing multi-drug resistant gonorrhea.

“She is a distinguished leader and professional whose dedication and passion for public health should not be taken for granted. Both personally and professionally, Michelle is a joy to be around and a true leader in STD prevention,” said William Smith, NCSD’s executive director.