The Perfect Plunge
There is something about being in a room full of students who have come from 25 different universities across the country to discuss the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Whether it is the passion and drive that is reflected in the discussions or the common belief that access to preventable and treatable diseases is a basic human right, the energy in the room depicts a piece of a movement that fosters a human quality much needed in the light of so much tragedy, inequality, and oppression - this quality is simply hope.
In small group discussions, the beauty of FACE AIDS comes alive. Big state schools (such as Michigan) and little Jesuit school (like Fairfield and Gonzaga), large established chapters (like Texas) and brand new budding chapters (like University of Wyoming). It is a testament to the drive and beauty of activism and solidarity. Also, fundraising $850,000 for the Partners in Health Clinics in Rwanda demonstrates the merits and influence of such activism and unity.
I got the chance to ask Dr. Farmer (who by the end of the evening shook my hand and for better or worse jokingly called me a character) one of the questions I will be using when interviewing managers/directors of HIV organizations in the different regions. The question asks people to comment on what is needed most in this fight against HIV. Jim Kim, the former WHO director and co founder of PIH, stated at the first national FACEAIDS conference that political will is the key to large scale change. This was then echoed by Stephen Lewis, Kofi Annan’s special envoy on AIDS in Africa, at the 2nd National FACE AIDS Conference. The Dali Lama, in a documentary that featured Dr Farmer, placed the strongest emphasis on human compassion, and lastly, many say the biggest gains will be made through enhancing infrastructure of clinics.
Farmer thanked me for my question and answered the way I knew he would. To paraphrase, one is not more important than the other. The pandemic is a multifaceted problem that must be resolved through several avenues. For instance, he used the example of food. He discussed how much nutrition plays a role in resource poor areas and how many people debate and comment on whether his clinics should and could sustain paying for food (which he said accounted for 20% of the Rwandan clinic budget). In his matter of fact style the sentences that followed embodied his most basic belief and approach to successful healthcare. It is the whole picture one must understand, band aids don’t work to cover a severed limb, and barriers remain unless broken down or maneuvered around. What good is putting someone on ARV’s if they are starving to death? Food is part of the equation of a healthy life.
The successes of PIH in Rwanda has created a stir among those in public health, and yet the secret is not hiding under a rock in Kigali. PIH has created a model that is well funded through the donors (heavily in part by the Clinton Foundation) and that has a government that is willing to seriously take on a crisis and do everything it can to make PIH a success. There is a reason people in southwest Rwanda are living a little better than 5 years ago. There is a reason PIH is revolutionizing health care in resource poor areas. There is a reason PIH has been asked to scale up there efforts to the national level, and there is a reason for hope in Rwanda.