About Jane Philpott

Dr. Jane Philpott is the founding chair of Give a Day to World AIDS which has raised over 3.5 million dollars for those affected by HIV in Africa. Dr. Philpott is Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital and President and Lead Physician of the Health for All Family Health Team in Markham, Ontario. She has helped develop a Global Health curriculum for the Markham Family Medicine Teaching Unit. Dr. Philpott is part of the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration (TAAAC) that is supporting the introduction of a post-graduate training program in Family Medicine in Ethiopia. From 1989 to 1998, she practiced medicine in Niger, West Africa and developed an educational program for community health workers.

I won’t give up!

Two years ago in my World AIDS Day message, I talked about K’naan and how I wanted to write a rap song about HIV. This year, I’ve picked a song from a different artist that expresses my sentiments about the ongoing challenge of the HIV pandemic. It’s a song by the brilliant Jason Mraz and the theme is this… I Won’t Give Up!

Caring about the issue of HIV can be discouraging at times. This has been a particularly emotional week. Each year, around this time, UNAIDS releases a World AIDS Day update. As you read the report, you could end up feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of this pandemic that continues to wreak havoc for individuals, families and communities across the globe. Despite the daunting statistics and the personal tragedies that I have witnessed, I remain an obstinate optimist – using the report to look for the signs of positive progress. I note for instance that new HIV infections in children are 43% lower than in 2003, before the Give a Day movement had started. This news brings tangible evidence that the elimination of new infections in children is possible.

But this week carried with it some unique emotional low points. Just as we celebrate that 8 million people in the world now have access to anti-retroviral therapy, we realize equal numbers of people – who need those medications right now to stay alive – don’t have access. And Canadians have reason to feel particularly disheartened this week because the initiative to fix Canada’s flawed regime for sending low-priced generic medicines to less-resourced countries was defeated in the House of Commons. We walked away from an extraordinary opportunity to help save lives.

…which brings me to the Jason Mraz song that speaks to the need to persevere, saying…

“I won’t give up

I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily,

I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make

Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use the tools and gifts we got, yeah, we got a lot at stake”

Indeed when it comes to the HIV pandemic, there is a lot at stake. In 2012, no one should live or die with AIDS. The need to act is as urgent as it has ever been in the 30 years since this pandemic was described. We cannot give up. We cannot walk away so easily. We must respond somehow.

That’s why I’m proud to remind you about Give a Day. It is a movement of ordinary Canadians who recognize World AIDS Day each year and they respond in a practical way. These concerned global citizens give one day’s pay to organizations that put those resources to good use in the communities most affected by HIV. To date, Give a Day has raised over $3.5 million for the two recipients that we recommend: the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Dignitas International.

Please join me in expressing your commitment to the people and places most affected by HIV. On December 1, World AIDS Day, please Give a Day. In the words of Jason Mraz…

I won’t give up.

“HIV: How I see it” by Dr. Yelshaday Teklu

I’ve been hearing about HIV as long as I can remember. Back then, my mindset towards HIV was sublimely unapologetic. The media and people around me demonized it so very much that I was scared to even think about it for a moment. Whatever was told, the reality was much different. Sometimes, I wonder how deceitful it is to listen to one side of a story and not be able to verify but make hasty conclusions.

Ethiopia is one of the countries in the world with a staggering number of HIV-positive people. The number of children who have lost their parents to HIV is also just below a million. HIV has cast its psychosocial and economical burdens for over two decades now. Thanks to a massive awareness campaign and various interventions carried out by the government and NGOs, the statistics are now falling. The stigma and discrimination practiced against HIV-positive citizens has affected the lives of these individuals greatly. Myths about the transmission of HIV and what it does to the body were so widespread and the public was influenced by these myths so much that HIV-positive people were having a hard time adjusting themselves and would suffer a wide range of problems.

Now the public has come to understand that people living with HIV can pretty much lead normal lives if they properly adhere to their medications and practice healthy lifestyles. Despite ongoing efforts, there are still wrong attitudes among some individuals. It is also usual nowadays to see a great number of HIV-positive people speak out and share their experiences. So, this means they have the belief they won’t be alienated by society anymore.

Addis, the capital city where I live, has the most overwhelming numbers of HIV-positive people as compared to the rest of the country. It has a population of about 5 million and every day one million people go in and out of the city. This is actually one of the factors that greatly contributed to the growing HIV epidemic in Addis. Recently though, it has been reported that only 5 out of 100 individuals are infected with the virus while this statistic was about 9 out of 100 not long ago. People are now realizing how serious this is and have started to avoid the risk behaviors that lead to contracting HIV. Equally important is the fact that the public has positively altered its outlook towards HIV-positive people. The “us versus them” attitude is no longer something that I see in my everyday life nor is it something I hear people say.

As someone who is in the medical environment, I have more expert knowledge on HIV from both a public health and a biologic perspective than the average person. I am fortunate enough to closely listen to what HIV-positive people have to say. As doctors, we are not only expected to treat the physical illness but the psychosocial malfunction associated with it. I couldn’t help but understand the pain they suffer as they walk me through their day to day lives. This has greatly helped me understand HIV. My mainstream perception about them is also derived from mass media awareness programs. I especially owe this to a radio program that is aired thrice a week called “Yibekal” literally translated as “It’s enough!” The way the program is put together is what endowed it with the power to change attitudes.

I volunteer in the public health activities of Ethiopian Medical Students’ Association (EMSA). I know the power of changing how people think about a particular situation and the importance of prevention as much as treatment. It has always been said that when we change the way we look at something, it changes. We’re all products of our mindsets. Therefore, the power of awareness-creation can never be underestimated. HIV is not something poor nations can fight only by themselves. When we celebrate this year’s World AIDS Day, we have to keep in mind that the role each of us plays counts and we have to renew our promises to contribute our shares throughout our lives. The HIV pandemic has taken its tolls for the past 30 years and has inflicted more damage in the developing nations than on anyone. I hope December 1 will be the day we vow to fight HIV together as one because this is the only way we can eradicate it from the face of the earth.

This guest post is contributed by Dr. Yelshaday Teklu. He is a General Intern at the Addis Ababa University, School of Medicine. Dr. Yelshaday is SCOPH Publications Head at the Ethiopian Medical Students’ Association and he is SCOPH African Regional Assistant for the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yelshman.

 

AIDS is not over

I walked past a poster this past weekend about a fund-raising walk in Toronto to raise money for the AIDS Committee of Toronto. The poster was emblazoned with the slogan AIDS IS NOT OVER!

That poster made me stop in my tracks. I could not walk past it. Of course I know that AIDS is not over. I think about AIDS on a pretty regular basis. I have dozens of patients with HIV in my clinical practice just north of Toronto. I am getting ready to launch the 2012 “Give a Day to World AIDS” campaign. I am fully aware that 34 million people in the world live with HIV.

But when I read that slogan yesterday -“AIDS IS NOT OVER” – I had an instant flash of alarm. The alarm didn’t arise from any new awareness of the facts of the pandemic. The alarm came from a stark realization that AIDS has indeed left the bright spotlight of our collective consciousness. The slogan is a plea to all of us to maintain the action that is imperative if we are genuinely aiming for a world without AIDS.

It seems that we can easily lose focus on an issue if it does not immediately threaten us, or promise huge benefits to people we know, or strongly appeal to own sense of injustice. If you are reading this blog, you understand the perspective needed to keep a focus on HIV and AIDS.

Read more on my personal blog about how we can respond to the reality that AIDS is not over. And get ready for the 2012 Give a Day campaign. To be sure, AIDS is not over. But together we are working for the day that it will be!

Reflections on the eve of the 19th International AIDS Conference

I was just finishing my first year of medical school in June of 1981 when five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia were reported at three hospitals in California. This collection of cases would later be considered to mark the start of the story of HIV and AIDS in North America.

Now, more than 30 years later, I realize that the varying phases and the shifting mood in the evolving story of HIV in the world have been mirrored somehow in the changing seasons of my own career. Today, on the eve of the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington DC, I reflect on the seasons of the pandemic. It seems to me that while the global response started with a period of discovery, this was followed by a long spell of despair. But in more recent years it appears that the much of the global community has entered a phase of determination – a firm resolve to bring the story of HIV to its rightful end.

DISCOVERY

I remember the period of immense discovery through the 1980s and early 1990s because it occurred during the years that I too was on a steep learning curve in the acquisition of medical knowledge. In 1983, right about the time the virus that causes AIDS was first isolated, I was a keen final year medical student studying in the hills of western Kenya. That year was my first introduction to the beauty of the continent of sub-Saharan Africa. The years of dramatic discovery related to HIV enjoyed one of the most promising moments in the mid-1990s when it was confirmed that with the use of a combination of anti-retroviral medications, HIV infection could be treated – bringing hope that HIV infection would not inevitably lead to premature death.

DESPAIR

But the reality of the next phase of the pandemic turned out to be anything but hopeful. By the end of 1997, it was estimated that 30 million people were infected with HIV. Enthusiasm about the promise of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) was blunted by the reality of the exorbitant cost of these regimes. The rate of new infections was dramatically higher than the number of people that could be started on treatment each year. The world began to come to grips with the devastating social and economic impact that the pandemic would have – especially in the parts of the world that are most severely affected by HIV. The earliest years of the 21st century were a time of deep despair for those familiar with the unprecedented atrocities caused by the global spread of this infection.

However, on the topic of seasons of despair, a very wise man said: “Often, the most discouraging moments are precisely the time to launch an initiative.  At such times people are searching for a way out of their dilemma.” Those remarkable words come from the autobiography of Nelson Mandela – who celebrated his 94th birthday this week!

Thus it happens that in this period of despair, many new initiatives were launched in an effort to find a way out of the dilemma caused by AIDS. In fact, the Give a Day movement was launched in 2004 when Canadians concerned about HIV were literally in the depths of despair. It turned out to be a great time indeed to launch a new idea about how Canadians could respond to the pandemic. My personal response to potential despair has always been the impulse to take action.

DETERMINATION

Now we look back on almost the past decade to see that great progress has indeed been made. Remarkably there are now more than 8 million people living with HIV who are receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries. Today on the eve of the 19th International AIDS Conference, there is great enthusiasm once again that the end of AIDS is in sight. The determination to address the pandemic echoes far and wide. The extraordinary Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank said very clearly this week that “we can end this epidemic”! Interestingly, he goes on from there to talk about using the lessons from the AIDS response to build the systems necessary to address other massive global problems such as poverty and hunger.

We have to maintain the momentum of this determination if we are going to see the end of AIDS. It is not impossible. The science exists. As always our greatest needs are social mobilization plus public infrastructure plus political will. Let us determine together to gather those ingredients so that AIDS will indeed be defeated!

 

 

In pursuit of a dream: 11 reasons to give

Let’s wrap up Give a Day 2011 with 11 outstanding reasons to give. Follow these links to read on…

Reason #11 GIVE For the 34 million people living with HIV

HIV is treatable and preventable.  No one should die because of AIDS. Give a Day donations help work toward a world without AIDS.

Reason #10 GIVE As an expression of our united will

Dr Danyaal Raza describes the power of the combined voice of those who give.  It is about more than the money. Dr Raza reviews our need to speak up on the topic of HIV/AIDS “to effect lasting change at a time when the fight against HIV/AIDS is at a turning point.”

Reason #9 GIVE To eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015

11-year-old Nigerian Ebube Sylvia Taylor, writes “No child should be born with HIV; no child should be an orphan because of HIV; no child should die due to lack of access to treatment.” Through support of community-based responses to HIV, Give a Day donations will help realize this essential goal.

Reason #8 GIVE To promote awareness and decrease stigma associated with HIV

Give a Day is a learning organization. There is always more to learn about HIV. The more we learn, the less we can be confused and misled by stereotypes and stigma.  Learning together opens our minds to see life from new perspectives and can help us to care for one another more effectively.

Reason #7 GIVE Because millions need antiretroviral treatment NOW!

Dr Tim O’Shea describes his work in Uganda and describes the contrast between impressive progress in the distribution of life-saving ARV treatment and the remaining reality of millions who still lack treatment “largely for the lack of funds.”

Reason #6 GIVE To support innovative action-oriented HIV research

Smart research is one of the reasons community-based HIV programs become more effective every year to enhance treatment and prevention.

Reason #5 GIVE To light a fire

Give a Day is about even more than giving and learning.  A good education leads to action. William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet (and later politician), said “Education is not filling a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” We want to light a fire through Give a Day.  We want that fire to burn brightly, to show a vision of a new and better future for the people and places affected by HIV.

Reason #4 GIVE To demonstrate a spirit of solidarity

If you look through the Give a Day blog posts, you see people from many sectors of society who have joined in the effort.  Here are young lawyers in Ottawa showing that they care and challenging their peers to give generously.

Reason #3 GIVE To maintain hope for a better world

Hundreds of high school students became involved with the Give a Day campaign this year, through not-so-trivial contests, speeches, donation-drives and ribbons of hope.  Young people are inherently hopeful.  May their hopes be realized for a better and healthier world.

Reason #2 GIVE To work toward a world without AIDS

Dr Winnie Siu reminds us that “an AIDS-free world will one day be achieved through – and only through – the synergy of our collective contributions.”

Reason #1 GIVE Because life slips away

The number one reason we press on is because everyone deserves the opportunity for a long, healthy and meaningful life.

Today is the last day of 2011. Martha Nussbaum says “The pursuit of a dream requires dreamers: educated minds that can think critically about alternatives and imagine an ambitious goal.”  Our ambitious goal is a world without AIDS. If you have not already done so, please give one day’s pay today to make this dream come true.