Wafaa El-Sadr, Physician and Healer

Working in HIV is, whether you’re a physician
or a counselor or a person working in the laboratory, you become an advocate. I learned that very early on. And for many, many years our patients
really were unable to advocate for themselves. So many of the physicians or the other health
care providers, we had to be their voice and trying to advocate for them. Now, luckily now, that’s changed. The MacArthur Award is surely an acknowledgement
of the work that’s been done by the team, the ICAP team, at the Mailman School
of Public Health at Columbia as well as the team that I’ve worked with
for 20 years at Harlem Hospital in New York City because these teams have been trying very
hard to every day think of new ways – innovations, new ideas – of solving problems
and I think it’s what’s very remarkable is the collective value of all
of these innovations. To take the local experience that we gained
by working in a community like Harlem through Harlem Hospital programs and take
that to global levels. ICAP now works in 14 countries in Africa
and is providing services to close to, over actually, over half a mllion individuals
living with HIV. And that growth has been astronomical
in such a short period of time and it’s a testament to the commitment
and the hard work of the people on the ground, the people we work with in these countries. And it was largely through really working
and listening to what the patients were saying that we put together what we call
a comprehensive family-focused approach to HIV care, meaning that you don’t just think
about the person in front of you who has HIV, but you think about who else in their community
has HIV, who else in their family has HIV or is affected by HIV, and you mold
a very comprehensive program that has a very different perspective from the usual
medical model of trying to provide specific treatment, a pill
or a treatment for a disease. One aspect of that is supporting rennovations
of laboratories, introducing new lab tests. Another aspect is trying to utilize technology. In many of the places where we work,
there has never been a computer. There’s no way of keeping track of patients. There’s no way of having a medical record. There’s no way of communicating
with all the providers and teaching them and providing them with access to up-to-date
new information, so part of our work has been to try to develop systems that are
at the level of where the people are working to collect data better, to feed the data back
to them in a more efficient way so they can actually utilize it to enhance
and improve their work and a large effort has been to try to utilize technology
to provide access to information. In some ways I believe that the MacArthur
Award offers us, all of us – the teams here in New
York and the teams overseas – to really think
about what are some ideas that we’ve always wanted to do that could have a high impact
but we never could do.

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