I have a question I like to ask first time parents: “What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about being a (father or mother)?” When I asked one young dad at a wedding recently, he was stumped for awhile, and admitted no one had ever asked him that question. So he literally asked me to wait while he thought about it; he took his time. His young son was just turning two and he was finishing an MD/PhD program. It was loud and crowded at this reception but eventually he turned to me and said, “His sense of humor!” He never thought he’d be having so much fun laughing at the world with his toddler!
I loved that answer. So we raised our champagne glasses to the new bride and groom, and to laughter!
Well yesterday, after all the amazing speakers and musicians and short films we saw at TEDx, one woman stood out, one woman surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, I had no idea a young man named Kluge, from a formidable Albemarle family, had decided to make dirty water sexy – like the many clean water initiatives throughout the developing world. He started a campaign called “Toilet Hackers” and is determined to make sanitation available to 2.5 billion people. Quite a worthy mission that would impact disease, economic growth and even education world-wide.
But the statistic that surprised me yesterday was 50,000. A beautiful young woman, Dawn Averitt Bridge, walked out on the stage and told us point blank that she had been diagnosed with HIV at the age of 19 in 1988. Normally, this would have been a death sentence, and her doctor told her parents NOT to talk about it or they would risk being ostracized. She managed to qualify for a very early retroviral study, and has devoted her life to fighting the stigma and the spread of this disease. Bridge only teared up when she recounted giving birth to her 2 HIV-free baby girls, and said that tears come every time she talks about that experience. This is her project: http://www.thewellproject.org
With dignity and grace, she urged us all to get tested for HIV, to include testing as a normal part of health screening. Because when we take the stigma out of the disease, when we treat it like any other chronic, blood-born virus, like Hepatitis for example, it loses its power. And the earlier the diagnosis, the better our chance for survival. This made so much sense to me – every year in America 50,000 new cases of HIV infections are reported. Bridge says this is unacceptable. People are taking more risks today, because they are young and think they are invincible, because they think HIV can be controlled now, like any other STD.
And in my opinion, because many states have banned clean needle exchanges for arcane religious reasons – and you know my opinion on mixing ideology with policy…on treating substance abuse as a crime and not a public health epidemic. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/29/science/la-sci-hiv-screening-20130430
We can distribute nets to halt the spread of malaria in Africa, we can introduce plumbing to the poor in India to stop the spread of dysentery, and in this country we can do one simple thing. We can urge our friends and family to get tested for HIV; and if you don’t want to visit a doctor, you can buy an over-the-counter test at a local pharmacy. Sometimes the most simple intervention, can be the most surprising of all.
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