Recent visits by Dr. Bruce Walker P ’02, ’05, director of the Division of AIDS at Harvard Medical School and director of the Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Sinikithemba Choir, a choral group of HIV-infected individuals, sparked a community fundraiser that resulted in $6,400—enough money to provide medication for 12 HIV-infected individuals for a year.
Last month, during a science department sponsored assembly, Dr. Walker, one of the world’s leading immunologists in the field of HIV research, spoke to a group of Milton students about his work. Dr. Walker explained the basic biology behind the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV), how it leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and how AIDS can lead to death. Dr. Walker shared with students information about his study of infected persons who are able to spontaneously control HIV infection. This study led to one of his most significant contributions to the treatment of HIV: the discovery that immediate treatment of HIV infection just after transmission with the “AIDS cocktail” can enhance the patient’s immune responses to the point that he/she can control HIV without drug therapy.
Dr. Walker also delivered a powerful message about the human impact of the AIDS epidemic on individuals and communities around the world. He spoke about the magnitude of the current AIDS epidemic in Africa and about predictions that future AIDS epidemics in China and India will dwarf the current one in Africa. Though solemn about the current situation of the AIDS pandemic, Dr. Walker was also hopeful about the prospects of fighting AIDS around the world.
Earlier in the year, Dr. Walker brought the inspirational HIV+ Sinikithemba Choir to campus. The Choir, developed from a support group at the McCord hospital in Durban, South Africa. The support group provides a safe environment where HIV-infected individuals can openly discuss their status without being ostracized. The support group also helps those who may have lost their jobs because of their illness by providing them Zulu beading and sewing projects that provide the individuals with money and maintains a common fund for any group member who becomes ill. The Sinikithemba choir emerged from this support group because many of the support group members tended to sing as they beaded and sewed, given the rich local choral tradition.
Inspired by Dr. Walker’s talk, and a visit by the Sinikithemba Choir, members of the Milton community sold Sinikithemba Choir CDs to raise money for anti-HIV medication for choir members. Because The Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School completely funded the production of Sinikithemba Choir CDs, 100 percent of the proceeds from sales will go directly to pay for medication.