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New Surgeon General Dr. Benjamin's AIDS Experience: brother died of AIDS
  By Michelle Garcia
With President Obama's nomination of Alabama family physician Regina Benjamin as U.S. Surgeon General comes a new ally in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS, says AIDS Project Los Angeles's director of government affairs.
During her speech accepting the nomination, Benjamin acknowledged her familiarity with HIV complications and issues, as her brother died at the age of 44 of an HIV-related illness. Having such a personal experience, especially a loss, due to HIV/AIDS could have a strong impact on her policy and public health campaigns, APLA's Phil Curtis told on Tuesday.
Curtis said that Benjamin has the ability to reach out to communities that have been largely underserved by efforts to reduce the rate of infection.
"We all know that the numbers have increased, especially in more marginalized communities, and communities of color," he said. "The infection rates in young African-American gay men are out of the ballpark -- it's stratospheric, and tragic. So prevention messages are something that Dr. Benjamin will have the opportunity to spread throughout the country."
He added that Benjamin, who ran her own clinic in rural Alabama, will also be able to contribute to Congress's current debate on health care policy, including strategies for early HIV prevention, and accessibility to prescription drugs.

Surgeon General Pick Boosts Primary Care
WASHINGTON -- The president's choice for U.S. surgeon general, Regina Benjamin, puts a primary-care physician in a prominent role as the administration pushes to reorient the health-care system toward prevention and primary care.
Dr. Benjamin, 52 years old, who has been part of the center studying health-care disparities at the National Institutes of Health, is expected to be a proponent of delivering more health care and medicine to the poor, minorities and rural areas.
In her own family, Dr. Benjamin mentioned the loss of family members to smoking-related lung cancer, an HIV-related illness and diabetes. She pointed to these deaths as one of the reasons for her commitment to improve primary-care medicine in treating preventable diseases.
"While I cannot change my family's past, I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation's health care and our nation's health for the future," Dr. Benjamin said when President Barack Obama introduced her Monday at the White House Rose Garden. "My hope, if confirmed as surgeon general, is to be America's doctor, America's family physician."
The administration and major groups representing doctors are discussing health-overhaul plans that could result in the government diverting some federal funds to primary care and away from specialty surgeries and diagnostic tests, according to representatives of physician societies and industry lobbyists.
Dr. Benjamin emerged several years ago as a critic of government regulations that complicate general practitioners' ability to treat uninsured patients or those covered by Medicaid, the federal and state health-care program for the poor. In a speech to the American Hospital Association in 2005, she blasted medical and government bureaucracy, saying that once in private practice, she learned that medicine "wasn't just sewing up shark bites."
"I had to deal with the land sharks, the regulators, the reviewers, the red tape, dispensers and what I call the hammerheads, the lawyers," she said.
But she also nodded to the financial realities of providing health care, saying if "you can't keep your doors open you can't continue to serve people." And she said health-care workers needed to avoid burnout. "As health-care workers we always tell everybody else what to do but we don't do it," she said.
Dr. Benjamin, who received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2008, has spent two decades serving rural Alabama. Her clinic is in the 2,500-person town of Bayou La Batre. After Hurricane Katrina, she expanded her work to other parts of the state.
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