On July 25 2013, I attended the 2nd annual pre-Pride Cocktail Kickoff at the Loden Hotel, Vancouver in support of the Dr. Peter AIDS foundation (DPAF).
The venue was a perfect match to the event. It was spacious yet cozy, and had outdoor and indoor spaces. Light food was served, DJ Quest played “deep sexy house music” as he called it, and 1181 Lounge served drinks including their famous “Let’s have a Kiwi” drink with vodka (hopefully it wasn’t Russian) and freshly mashed kiwis. The event was fabulous. The tickets were 135 CAD which includes a 100 CAD tax-deductible donation.
Most important of all, it served its cause. One of the hosts and a board member at DPAF, Mr. Gary Serra stated on Facebook a day after the event:
I’m speechless! Last night our 2nd annual Pre Pride Cocktail Kickoff at the Loden Hotel in support of the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation put on by myself, Kevin Mazzone, Ryan McKinley and Richard Nicholas Graham raised over $25,000!!! Thank you ALL who supported us and made this possible.
Mr. Serra told me : “I think this year’s event was amazing! We almost doubled what we raised last year and people overall had a great time and thanked us for it.
The Dr. Peter AIDS foundation was established by Dr. Peter Jepson-Young shortly before his death. The Foundation established The Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver, an assisted-living residence and health centre dedicated to helping those living with HIV and AIDS. As Mr. Serra puts it: “The center provides a safe place where people can have nutritious meals and receive health services, it also encourages adherence to medications which is crucial in preventing the spread of HIV. The Center provides a sense of community where people can feel like someone cares.”
Dr. Peter (1957-1992) was a medical doctor in Vancouver who promoted AIDS and HIV awareness and education in the early 1990s through a regular segment on CBC Television. His Academy Award nominated documentary was called “The Dr. Peter Diaries“. In this series, and with “honesty, pathos and humour” Dr. Peter shared his own experiences as a person with AIDS.
I had the honour to meet Dr. Peter’s parents at this event. Bob and Shirley young are such delightful souls. Their smiles were contagious as they fondly spoke about their son. Their work and devotion is inspiring. His mother made sure to correct me: “His name is Jepson-Young and it is hyphenated” just as he liked it to be.
Medical director and Head of Family Practice at BC Women’s Hospital Dr. Michael Farmer, a friend of mine who also was at the event, told me: “Dr. Peter and I were one year apart in medical school so I’ve known him since the 80s. And also, unbelievably, when HIV was not yet even part of medical school curriculum. I’ve been in practice since the days when AZT was the only medicine available” (AZT stands for Zidovudine and is the first U.S. government-approved treatment for HIV therapy)
When I asked him about his enthusiasm for the cause, Mr. Serra said: “It is still critical to pursue and support this cause… The DPAF is the model of care for those living with HIV/AIDS who may also have other issues in their lives such as addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, victims of violence.” According to Serra, the model had been so successful that experts from around the world have come to Vancouver to study it further and potentially copy it.
As activists in the west move their focus to marriage equality, is HIV activism getting a hit? It is not like a cure or a vaccine has been found, even though the search for both seem promising. It is true that currently the life expectancy of people living with HIV is the same as those with a negative status, but this is at the expense of taking medicine on a daily basis, and enduring whatever side effects and financial burden that might carry. A lot of work is still needed especially that 1 in 4 new HIV infections occurs in youth ages 13 to 24 years, and about 60% of all youth, with HIV do not know they are infected, are not getting treated, and can unknowingly pass the virus on to others (Statistics from CDC, USA). A larger amount of work is needed to conquer the stigma associated.
Only few days ago Michael Lucas came out as HIV-negative man on PrEP and wondered why not all at-risk people are “shouting from the rooftops about this potential game changer” as he called it. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and entails taking Truvada (One of many anti-retroviral drugs available for HIV) daily to prevent acquiring the virus. This is already causing controversies: Will the use of PrEP decrease the compliance with condom use? But we already know this compliance is dropping, so will PrEP pioneer prevention strategies? But the expense is debilitating, so will it remain a privilege to those who can afford it? Could PrEP be the answer to decrease new infections? Will that be at the expense of an increase in other sexually transmissible infections? All are questions worth answering but as we try to prevent spread of the virus we should not forgot about individuals who already have it!
Since people living with HIV have more needs far greater than just survival and since it is important to look beyond the virus and to care for the people, the model of care Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation provides inspires me.
“You can call on me anytime for help” I promised Dr. Peter’s mother that evening as she gave me her email address and insisted I write her.