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Pediatric AIDS Corp in Africa: Baylor College of Medicine & BMS
  Opening a New Front In the War Against AIDS
Wall St Jnl
November 1, 2005
Today, world leaders in medicine, government, business, public policy and the arts will convene at the Global Health Summit in New York City to explore ways Americans can help solve global health challenges. During the opening discussions, they will also meet four young pediatricians who are dedicating the next year of their lives to a unique program designed to confront head-on what many consider to be the most formidable health crisis of our generation -- HIV/AIDS.
These four are among a cadre of medical specialists in the newly created Pediatric AIDS Corps. The worldwide war against AIDS is fought in many ways and on many fronts; this team of specially trained doctors is the medical equivalent of a commando unit. Commissioned in June by Baylor College of Medicine and Bristol-Myers Squibb, it will soon drop behind the lines in southern Africa, where the doctors will focus on saving the lives of HIV/AIDS's most vulnerable victims.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to barely 1% of the world's health-care work force, yet the region bears more than 60% of the world's burden of HIV/AIDS. That human-resources shortage affects the entire population, but it hits children especially hard. Because very few of the local health-care professionals have any training or experience in the care and treatment of HIV-infected children, they often view treating them as too complex and too difficult. As a consequence very few children on the continent have gained access to the treatment and lifesaving medicines commonly used in the U.S. and Western Europe. It is estimated that only one in 100 African children infected with HIV receives care of any kind. Simply put, too many children in Africa are dying of HIV/AIDS.
It is clear that doctors who know how to treat children -- pediatricians and family practitioners -- are desperately needed. And until there are adequate numbers to help the estimated 1.9 million children infected with HIV in Africa, the deaths likely will continue at the horrifying rate of more than 1,000 a day. This is nothing less than a scandal.
Bristol-Myers Squibb and Baylor partnered to establish the Pediatric AIDS Corps to focus our energies and resources on delivering specialized treatment and medical skills to children with HIV/AIDS in Africa. For each of the next five years, 50 specialist physicians will work in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Malawi, some of the countries hit hardest by the AIDS pandemic. They will devote at least a year -- and in some cases, two years -- to caring for children and training African health-care professionals on HIV management.
Some $22 million from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and $10 million from Baylor will pay the doctors' living and training expenses and cover the costs of medical school loans while they are in the Pediatric AIDS Corps. An additional $8 million commitment from the company will expand the network of pediatric treatment facilities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These children's clinics, complete with medical teams, up-to-date equipment and antiretroviral medications, will serve as a new backbone of pediatric care in Africa. The Pediatric AIDS Corps will operate not just in these clinics, but also beyond, into the more isolated areas devastated by HIV/AIDS.
The Pediatric AIDS Corps is not the complete answer to the critical shortage of health-care professionals in Africa, but it is an important bridge to the time when enough Africans are trained in HIV management to effectively help the many children infected with the disease. And the more funding and support this initiative has, the greater its impact will be. In fact, the clinic network soon to be fully in place is equipped to handle three times the number of professionals currently signed on.
We have already found that dozens of well-trained physicians are willing to trek to Africa to be part of this landmark program. While sending a doctor to Africa costs up to $130,000 annually (inclusive of living stipend, housing, travel, training and student loan debt repayment), that doctor can provide treatment for more than 1,300 children and train dozens of health-care professionals in only a single year.
We are inviting, indeed encouraging, other companies, individuals, foundations, medical schools, academic institutions and communities of faith to join us in expanding the Pediatric AIDS Corps by supporting their own sponsored doctor -- or doctors -- in Africa. Nearly three dozen pediatricians have already joined the AIDS Corps and soon all the openings funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb will be filled. I am reaching out to my peers in the industry and those with the means to sponsor pediatricians so we do not have to turn away any qualified, caring pediatricians willing to devote their time to saving children's lives. Interested companies and organizations are invited to contact the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to find out how they can sponsor their own doctors.
HIV/AIDS doesn't have to be a death sentence for so many of Africa's children. We should find inspiration in President John F. Kennedy's words on the Peace Corps: "We have, in this country, an immense reservoir of men and women anxious to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress." We must find the resources to once again tap America's immense reservoir of energy and talent, for a cause just as important as world peace and human progress -- building a better future for the children of Africa.
Mr. Dolan is the chief executive officer of Bristol-Myers Squibb.
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