Monday, December 6, 2010

World AIDS Day Editorial

Once upon a time there lived a small-statured African doctor with a big heart that ached for the dying people in his impoverished Nigerian neighborhood. Their arms and legs looked like diseased twigs with swollen red bumps. Their eye sockets protruded from their shrinking faces and their gasps for breath rendered the doctor helpless. But he was not hopeless.

Without desperately-needed lifesaving medications, he treated their HIV/AIDS symptoms with vitamins, counseling and prayers at his small clinic. He believed that healing was a holistic process. Body. Mind. Soul. So he started a support group, a skills-acquisition training center, a neonatal component, prevention and education training, and transitional housing units for those shunned by their families.

He chose to treat them as if they would live, not die. “How many people are in this room?” he asked them. “Three,” they might say. So he asked, “Which one of us is going to die first?” They tilted their heads and wondered if this was a trick question. If they said, “Me,” then the doctor would say, “How do you know? How many people woke up this morning and thought they were fine, but took their last breath today? Are there not perfectly healthy people who will die in accidents today?” The patients nodded reluctantly, and the doctor continued. “None of us knows the number of our days. We don’t know who will die next. It could be you. It could be me.” He leaned toward them. Peering over his oversized reading glasses,, he annunciated slowly, “So go live your life.”

Many of his patients held on until 2004 when the United States government PEPFAR program (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) began sending antiretroviral medications to his clinic. Before long, about 2,500 of his patients living positively with HIV/AIDS had a new lease on life. And a grassroots one-on-one personal sponsorship program provided medication to more than 150 of the 10,000 patients on the waiting list.

When the doctor now enters his new three-story blue and white Nigerian hospital, he’s reminded how far they’ve come. And how far there is to go so that most of them can live happily ever after.

So what does this story have to do with us in Fort Collins? Last Wednesday was World AIDS Day, and we’re reminded that HIV/AIDS still exists across the ocean and in our own neighborhoods. In addition to the estimated three million infected Nigerian people, there are more than three hundred people living in Larimer County diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. And those are only the ones who’ve been tested.

There’s a lot that we can do to help. First, love and accept people with HIV/AIDS regardless of how they contracted it. Second, volunteer at an AIDS clinic. Third, consider donating for one or more Nigerian’s lifesaving medications. It’s only 50 cents a day, $183 a year. Go to and click on Save-A-Life. And last but not least, don’t forget that this immune-robbing enemy still lurks among us. Be tested, be knowledgeable, and be an agent of positive change.

(This editorial that I wrote appeared in our local newspaper on Saturday. The photo is just eye candy for my single women friends.)

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