Archive for the ‘HIV/AIDS’ Category

On World AIDS Day 2012: Remembering Dr. B. Frank Polk

December 1, 2012
Dr. B. Frank Polk (1942-1988), physician, epidemiologist, pioneering researcher of HIV/AIDS

Dr. B. Frank Polk (1942-1988), physician, epidemiologist, pioneering researcher of HIV/AIDS

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. All over the world, countries are celebrating how far we’ve come in curtailing the spread of HIV/AIDS and how far we need to go. The Sydney Opera House was lit up in a resplendent glowing red against the night sky and a backdrop of red fireworks. Amidst the celebrations, it’s important to take some time to remember a time, not that long ago, when we were all more confused and frightened of this rare, terrifying epidemic.

One of the early pioneers of research into HIV/AIDS and an unsung medical hero is the late B. Frank Polk of Johns Hopkins. In 1982, Dr. Polk was one of the first to dedicate his energy and intellect into finding out more about a new baffling cluster of cases of a sexually transmitted disease cropping up among the gay community. At the time, they called it Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease (GRID), trying to pinpoint what it shared with other more well-known diseases.

Initially, at a major research institution like Hopkins, there was some skepticism in the early 80s about the importance of Polk’s research. John Bartlett, a specialist in infectious diseases wondered why Polk wanted to pursue this disease. “What disease? It’s just seven patients.” But Polk was undeterred. “It’s going to be a big one,” he responded.

Through Polk’s tireless efforts to track the symptoms and life cycle of HIV/AIDS, Hopkins and other institutions became more aware of the need to commit funding towards its research at a time when many knew so little about the disease and questioned its importance. I mention Dr. Polk because my mother was in his infectious disease epidemiology course at Hopkins in 1985. She remembers him the way many do, as a tremendously dedicated teacher and physician—bright-eyed, intellectually curious, and patient and incisive in regards to his students and the possibilities for new advances in research.

Three years later, Dr. Polk died of a brain tumor at the age of 46. His obituary in The New York Times describes his dedication and inexhaustible commitment to research, teaching, and lobbying for funding:

Despite the resources being devoted to AIDS research, he often expressed frustration with the slowness of the process: the drugs that turn out to be ineffective, the genetic hypotheses that are not tenable and the blind alleys that must be abandoned.”The only thing to do,” he said in an interview with the publication Public Health, ”is to try again.”

Dr. Frank Polk died before he could see how far his research and hard work helped our understanding and treatment of HIV/AIDS. But his work and legacy certainly live on as we continue to find lasting solutions as to how to treat the disease and improve the lives of those who have it.


Slavery is a Problem Now More than Ever

September 26, 2012

Girls at work in a red light district in India

There are more than 30 million slaves in the world today. More than any other point in human history, according to the UNCHR and UNICEF. Yesterday, the U.S. President gave a speech at The Clinton Global Initiative where he vowed he would use all resources to end the global trafficking of children and women. We don’t often realize that the clothes we might wear or the chocolate we might eat are made by young people sold into slavery.

In South Asia alone, millions of people from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan are trafficked for forced labor or prostitution. The traffickers are often the people the children know well–neighbors or relatives.

From the map, we can see the highest incidence of trafficking in Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and then in South Asia and Latin America. A mainstream movie like Taken opened our eyes to the seamy underbelly of trafficking in glittery Paris, while Slumdog Millionaire showed us what it means to poor, powerless and young in urban India. So, what can anyone do to make a difference and stop this ongoing crime? Many sites have a step by step guide of what we can do to be more aware of people who are traffickers and those who are trafficked. A major step is lobbying congressmen and industries to enact laws and measures that will target traffickers. With stricter laws and more rigorous border patrol at high-risk areas it’s harder for people to be trafficked out of a country without their consent.

Check out the Not For Sale campaign, where you can see what might be done

HIV-Infected Organ Transplants

August 13, 2012

HIV research, treatment, and advocacy groups are lobbying members of Congress to amend current law and allow transplantation of organs from HIV-infected donors to HIV-infected recipients. They are calling to amend the National Transplant Act, passed in 1984, which reflects the profound lack of knowledge of HIV/AIDS at the time when it was written. HIV has become a manageable chronic disease and patients with HIV have longer life spans and are vulnerable to other chronic diseases associated with older age, such as kidney failure and liver failure–conditions for which organ transplantation is often the standard treatment.

JAMA, August, 8, 2012, Mike Mitka


Tony Cunning, 48, of Milwaukee, got a kidney transplant last month at UW Hospital. He is one of the first three HIV-positive patients to receive an organ transplant in Wisconsin.