by Dr. Jane Philpott, Give a Day founder
When confronted with a massive global crisis, it’s tempting to feel powerless. But when you see that massive crisis through the face of its individual victims, you sense an irrepressible urge to find some practical way to respond. That’s what inspired an idea that would grow into the campaign we now call “Give a Day to World AIDS.”
I will always remember the night, 10 years ago, when I first pitched the idea of Give a Day. I had recently returned to Canada after living in West Africa for a decade. I had seen the devastation caused by the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS took the life of the director of the hospital where we had worked in Niger, leaving his young family without a husband and father. He was one of countless young adults whose lives were cut short in the community where we lived. In those days, anti-retroviral treatment was rarely available in West Africa. A diagnosis of HIV infection meant agonizing illness and inevitable death.
Here in suburban Ontario, as a family doctor, I began to care for a few patients with HIV and was thankful for the resources that were available. But I could not stop thinking about millions of people in sub-Saharan African who did not have access to the same treatment. In 2004, less than half a million people in the world had access to life-saving anti-retroviral therapy for HIV infection.
Thankfully, someone gave me a platform and I took it. A local surgeon, Dr. Paddy Whelan, invited me to speak at a Medical Staff Association dinner. I talked to my physician-colleagues at Markham Stouffville Hospital. We talked about the state of the AIDS pandemic. My colleagues felt tremendous compassion. We needed a practical way to express that concern. So I made a simple proposal. I said: “World AIDS Day is December 1. What if we decided on that day, that we are working on behalf of people living with HIV? What if we each calculate how much money we earn in a day and give it to a great organization supporting people affected by HIV?” My colleagues responded with generosity. People handed me cheques and credit card numbers. On December 1st 2004, the doctors of Markham Stouffville Hospital gave over $33,000 to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Give a Day was born.
The Give a Day campaign has grown tremendously since then. It has spread through medical, legal and business communities. Dozens of incredible volunteers have shared the Give a Day challenge with their colleagues. Each year since 2004, hundreds of people give one day’s pay to great organizations like Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Nearly $4 million has been raised to support the people and places most affected by HIV.
The state of the pandemic has changed in 10 years. While there are over 35 million people living with HIV, the number of new infections and the number of AIDS deaths declines each year. Over 10 million people now have access to treatment. The global community has made progress. But still, over 4000 people die every day from this preventable and treatable illness. It’s hardly time to relax.
The best news from Give a Day is about how much one person can do on one day. Robert Kennedy once advised against “the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills.” Indeed he went on to say that: “It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
One person on one day can accomplish a huge amount of good, in the same way that single ripples can join to build a mighty current. When we join colleagues, friends and acquaintances across the country in giving one day’s pay on World AIDS Day, the collective effect is tremendous. It means that considerable resources are channeled into Canadian organizations that use the money effectively to address the pandemic. But it also means that we refuse to feel powerless. We refuse to do nothing. We insist on making a contribution and challenging others to do the same. This year, on December 1, I urge you to join the effort. Please Give a Day to World AIDS.Dr. Jane Philpott is a family doctor in Markham, Ontario. She is the founder of Give a Day to World AIDS.