During my last semester of high school in 1983, I had an internship with a pathologist. For my final report, he suggested that I write about a new disease. It was an exciting idea because no one knew the cause of the disease and it was so different from anything seen until then. That was the first time I had done any work related to AIDS.
Fast forward to public health school at Columbia University in New York City in 1990. I started working with a professor in the AIDS Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center. We put together a weekly conference series where medical providers and public health specialists could present their work with AIDS patients and people at risk for HIV infection. We also put together some of the early infection control trainings for hospital staff because the fear of HIV infection was palpable.
But it was at amfAR where I became emotionally committed to helping stem the AIDS pandemic. I worked in the international division during 1992-93. We were in the second decade of the epidemic, but until then I hadn’t really known anyone with HIV. My involvement with AIDS was professional and academic, but not personal. At amfAR, this changed. Many people at amfAR were living with HIV and most had a family member or friend with HIV. As I got to know my colleagues and they became my friends, the personal and emotional side of AIDS started to wear off on me and I knew that this was the work I needed to do.
I have been working for a world without AIDS ever since then, in Cambodia, India, Central Asia, and elsewhere. There are many aspects of public health worth working for, but for me, working towards a world without AIDS is more than that. It’s personal.