May 14, 2015

If we can't do better in the Nation's Capital, what can we expect?

I recently went to a diagnostic lab to get some blood taken.  Nothing serious. Just seeing how the liver is doing with a new combination of HIV drugs I started last month. As I went in to the small room for the blood draw, there was not much space for my bicycle bag and helmet, so I put the bag on the floor and the helmet laying across the top of the small trash can on the floor. The phlebotomist came in and, noticing my helmet, proceeded to move it, saying she uses the garbage can to throw things in. “We get people with all kinds of things like HIV and other pathogens here, and I don’t want any bloody materials with that getting on your helmet.”

I was taken aback. Sure, it was not the best place for the helmet (although there was ample space to still put trash in). It was more the words conveyed almost with a sense of disgust, like “we get those kind of people in here”, unaware that I was one of those people. Furthermore, shouldn’t any materials that may be carrying pathogens be disposed of using universal precautions, and not merely tossed in an open can? 

Now, if this event took place in some remote region, I might have been less concerned, and chalked it up to a continuing need to do education (which this certainly is). However, this all took place in a medical building in the Nation’s Capital, the place where people come from around the world calling for funding and policies to end HIV and the city that continues to have epidemic rates of HIV, and has received countless dollars over the past decade to combat HIV. Yet here we are, in the middle of it all, less than 3 blocks from the White House Office on AIDS, with healthcare facilities and personnel showing a shocking lack of professionalism and education. No wonder HIV continues to run amok. As long as the powers that be insist on looking at HIV as anywhere but immediately underfoot, we will be missing a vital piece of the puzzle to end the pandemic.