by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
World AIDS Day Luncheon
Washington State Convention Center
World AIDS Day, an annual event held on December 1 that raises awareness about the global issue of HIV and AIDS, is right around the corner. Also known as World AIDS Awareness Day, the 2009 theme for this year's event is Universal Access and Human Rights. Besides raising awareness, memorials, educational and informative events are held all around the world.
In Seattle, Multifaith Works, Dunshee House, Gay City, and Seattle Counseling Service for Sexual Minorities are teaming up to hold a luncheon at the Washington State Convention Center on December 1, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. This year, Dr. Bob Wood, HIV/AIDS director for Seattle-King County Health Department has been named as the AIDS Service Award honoree.
Dr. Wood is no stranger to the HIV/AIDS battle. Wood holds a fellowship from the American College of Physicians who helped establish a King County group of about 100 LGBT physicians in the late 1970s that got intimately involved in AIDS care, and was one of the leading AIDS physicians beginning in 1982 - eventually becoming the director of the HIV/AIDS Control Program for Public Health, Seattle-King County Health Department I 1986, a position he's held for 23 years.
"I am deeply honored to be getting this award," Dr. Wood told SGN. "I was one of the earliest doctors to get involved during the initial AIDS crisis and have been working on helping patients ever since."
For the physician, this was a personal fight. Not only had Woods lost a lover to the epidemic, he discovered he was HIV-positive in 1985. That is when he decided to take the job as director of the HIV/AIDS Control Program to "make a contribution to the community."
"If you have a disease like HIV and you think you are going to die, you don't have much to lose," Woods explained, "so you challenge people and push buttons. A couple of years ago, I got an award for courage in medicine. But the truth is, when you think you are dying, you don't have to have a lot of courage. You just get things done. I'm proud that I've been able to show people that since '85 I've had AIDS, and yet, here I am."
Although Dr. Wood says receiving the award is an honor, he maintains that most of what his program at the Seattle-King County Health Department has accomplished "is the work of a lot of different people, not just me."
"I'm proud of having so many wonderful colleagues around me," he said, "people who are devoted to doing the best they can to prevent the spread of the disease and helping the people who are sick."
While progress has been made over the years regarding HIV and AIDS, there is still much to do. It is estimated that over 33 million people live with HIV - more than 1.1 million in the U.S. alone - and many of them children and Gay men.
"THE FEAR IS NO LONGER THERE"
Dr. Wood said he is concerned with the way people are no longer afraid of the disease because not as many people are dying from AIDS anymore. He said people who do not have HIV should not look at it as a manageable, one-pill-a-day disease. "You don't see people looking emaciated or having lesions on their faces," Wood said. "You no longer see people with AIDS using walkers to get around. The fear is no longer there - it was that fear that, frankly, brought down the infection rates among Gay men."
Wood says that the menace of AIDS is greater today than at any time in its history.
"Too many new infections are occurring and highest risk populations are not getting enough prevention services," he said. "AIDS is still a serious threat; never have there been more people living with HIV and AIDS."
Still, Wood said the quality of life for people who are surviving with the disease is not one-dimensional. The biggest change, he said, is that "in the early days, before the drug cocktails, if you got AIDS, you were expected to die. Nowadays, we see HIV as a chronic disease that is not curable, but somewhat manageable."
"We still don't have a vaccine or a cure yet, but it is better in many ways." he told SGN, "especially concerning the drugs available for people who are infected."
"But more people are getting infected than are dying," he warned. "The number of people living keeps going up 5% a year, with the worst impact on the Gay community."
Dr. Wood is also a clinical professor of medicine and of Health Services at the University of Washington. From 1984 to 1998, he was a member of the CDC's Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS & STD Prevention and remains a consultant to the CDC. Dr. Wood was the Seattle principal investigator for the CDC's AIDS Community Demonstration Project from 1985 to 1994, and for the NIDA's National AIDS Demonstration Research from 1987 to 1990.
He has written extensively on HIV/AIDS clinical care, epidemiology, and prevention - something Wood plans to continue as he approaches retirement after 39 years as a doctor. He says he will travel a little more and continue to teach and keep involved with the university.
"But first," says Wood, "I'm going to take a good, long vacation."
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