We are four medical students whose cross-cultural experiences with HIV have enabled us to approach our future patients with humility, determination to preserve their dignity, and a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. We make a great team because our diversity of experiences equips us to approach complex problems from multiple complementary perspectives.
Sara first encountered HIV-associated health inequalities in her native Colombia. At the University of Florida, she worked with the Minority AIDS Program to provide free HIV testing and counseling to minorities, LGBTQ community members, and migrant workers. Fluent in Spanish, she spent significant time in the fields translating and witnessed firsthand the alienating stigma of an HIV diagnosis. These experiences have fueled her passion to educate the community about HIV, promote sexual health awareness, and increase access to care by reducing the stigma surrounding HIV.
Thomas founded a program in Uganda that provides HIV screenings to rural prisoners. Volunteering at HIV clinics, he learned that Ugandan women are more likely to be infected than men, and that men are often too ashamed to go to the clinic. He also found that many prisoners knew their HIV status, but had become disconnected from receiving their medications. By providing screening programs, he partnered with the community to reconnect local health centers with the prison population. In medical school, he has been involved with a community health program that similarly links low-income residents to available health resources.
Emily has lived in England, Greece, South Korea, worked for the United Nations in Switzerland, and is married to a native Ecuadorian. Her global experiences compelled her to become active in shaping health policy. She advocated at UNAIDS and the WHO for the integration of food and nutrition into HIV prevention and treatment policies. On missions to Kenya and South Africa with the World Food Program, she witnessed how food insecurity increases HIV exposure and impairs access to treatment, and how malnourishment increases mortality. She worked with national counterparts to incorporate nutritional rehabilitation into HIV treatment, and coordinated grant reporting in 42 countries.
Tim’s passion for HIV care began with a community-based organization in Bolivia. This inspired his research to understand HIV’s impact on the Southside of Chicago, where he discovered that HIV rates were much higher among African American gay men and published a paper highlighting the need for an equitable distribution of HIV prevention services. With the advent of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily medication dramatically reducing the risk of HIV transmission, he set out to eliminate this disparity by starting “PrEP Chicago,” a project that empowers young African American gay men to increase awareness about this medication in their communities. To date, 150 “change agents” have been trained.
Our experiences working on HIV around the globe have shown us that human suffering is universal and that eliminating it requires direct engagement with those affected. We believe that empowering local communities involves understanding their needs and priorities above our own and partnering with them to improve education, access, prevention, and treatment.