Expert: Align AIDS prevention, treatment

Two photos of a Haitian man named Samuel appeared on a large screen. One portrayed Samuel near his death, while he was infected with AIDS. Another photo showed Samuel as a man in a healthier state holding a small child.

Paul Farmer, a world-renowned medical anthropologist, spoke Wednesday about integrating HIV prevention and treatment, as well as his experience treating AIDS victims in Haiti.

Farmer said the bridge between the two photos was treatment of AIDS.

“Twenty years ago, we didn’t even know that HIV was the cause of AIDS,” Farmer said. “In the space of one generation, HIV went from complete obscurity to being the number one epidemic killing adults today.”

Farmer said he presented the photo of Samuel because his patients often ask him to show pictures of them during his lectures and present their testimonies, since the patients are unable to attend.

Farmer said his argument is not treatment versus prevention, but instead a combination of prevention and treatment is necessary to solve the problem of AIDS in poor, low-resource countries, such as Haiti.

Along with treating the sick people of Haiti, Farmer has also treated AIDS patients in Russia, Peru, Mexico and Massachusetts.

In addition to having a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard, he also teaches at the university. A few of Farmer’s other achievements include co-founding Partners in Health, which is a nonprofit international organization that works in Latin America, the Caribbean, Russia and the United States.

The Former Prime Minister of the Dominican Republic, Andres S. Hernandez, attended the lecture.

“Since we have moved from only prevention methods to adding treatment to the patients who are the sickest and carried on stretcher (close to death), none of the patients have died yet,” Farmer said.

Not only can medication help those who are sick, Farmer said, but it also has an impact on prevention. He said prior to offering drugs, the free testing was not readily utilized by many, but after the drugs were available, people wanted to get tested.

“In 1995, when the drug AZT was introduced to the Haitian community, over 90 percent of the women that were offered the HIV testing accepted testing that was made available free of charge,” Farmer said. “This shows that a drug can have a direct impact on prevention, as well as treatment.”