Valli Meeks, DDS, MS, RDH, clinical professor in the Department of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) is a recipient of a 2020 William J. Gies Award Achievement – Dental Educator.
The honor, part of the annual William J. Gies Awards for Vision, Innovation and Achievement, recognizes the efforts of individuals, institutions and organizations that advance oral health and dental education.
“I’m still wrapping my head around that this is a national award from a nationally prominent dental organization recognizing me for what I think of as just doing my job. But it also galvanizes me to try to improve and do it even better,” Meeks said.
Meeks has served for just over three decades as director of UMSOD’s PLUS Clinic, the state’s first dental clinic for Marylanders with HIV/AIDS who have no insurance. Established in 1989, the clinic remains Baltimore’s primary facility to provide comprehensive oral health services to uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS.
“I am both pleased and proud that Dr. Meeks’ efforts over the past three decades on behalf of those living with HIV are being recognized with this prestigious, national award,” said Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD, UMSOD dean and professor. “She has significantly improved access to oral health care for people living with HIV/AIDS, increased understanding of HIV/AIDS in the oral health community, and contributed to the quality of life for many.”
In 2013, Meeks also collaborated with the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s (UMSOM) Institute of Human Virology to introduce HIV testing in UMSOD clinics to identify, educate, and refer HIV-positive patients for needed care.
Additionally, she worked with UMSOM faculty and Marion Manski, RDH, MS, former director of UMSOD’s Dental Hygiene Program, to amend UMSOD’s predoctoral dental/dental hygiene curricula to include competency in HIV testing and identification of issues that lead to disparities in health care delivery. As clinical trainer for the MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center, she established the PLUS Clinic as a regional center for the diagnosis and treatment of oral lesions associated with HIV disease.
Her accomplishments extend beyond the Mid-Atlantic community: In partnership with the Rwandan Minister of Health and Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Meeks was instrumental in launching a Bachelor of Dental Surgery program at the University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences. This is the only dental school in Rwanda to offer a Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree; the Class of 2018 represents its first graduating class.
Known internationally as an expert on people living with HIV, she has given presentations in Brazil, Nigeria, Germany, Trinidad and England, among other countries.
Nonetheless, there is still much to be done, Meeks said. On her list is continuing to spread the message, particularly to youths, that HIV/AIDS is a preventable disease.
“Prevention of new cases of HIV is our No. 1 strategy for ending the epidemic locally. Getting the message to young adults and adolescents, as well as to those at risk for acquiring HIV, that HIV is preventable is a top priority,” she said.