Deb Lebel: I began working in HIV when…



Until 1987, I worked in the public affairs office of a statewide Planned Parenthood affiliate. I helped to plan advocacy conferences. A few colleagues talked about this “new” disease, AIDS, but I didn’t see patients and didn’t know much about the epidemic. When I came to JSI in 1988 I worked on conferences for the New England Title X Family Planning Training Center and began to hear more about the disease.

After the passage of the Ryan White CARE Act, JSI provided technical assistance to cities and states under our contract with HRSA’s Bureau of Health Resources Development (now called the HIV/AIDS Bureau). In 1996, I joined the project team. One of my early assignments was to support logistics for a meeting to enable people living with HIV to give input to state leaders on how to plan services. I remember learning that some PLWH only wanted to drink bottled water at the meeting. There was fear that tap water might expose PLWH to germs that would put them at greater risk. I was struck with how frightening and hard it must be to have to plan so many details to protect oneself against ordinary germs that might be devastating. It was my first, tiny inkling into living with HIV.

Since that meeting, I have always worked within JSI’s HIV portfolio. I’ve worked with state health departments, HRSA, and now I am grateful that every day, my work helps me to remember my friends since lost to the epidemic and to remember the many millions of others who have died.  We must end this epidemic in honor of friends, family, and colleagues who fought or fight against the disease and stigma.

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