Associate Director for JSI
How long have you worked with JSI?
I started working with JSI in January 1990 and have been here on and off (but mostly on) since then.
That is a long time! Why have you stayed so long?
Joel Lamstein and many others saw some potential in me 26 years ago. It’s having mentors like them who continue to support and challenge me that make JSI so great. They gave me a lot of opportunities and I felt like I was making a contribution to something important. JSI has become my home.
What kind of work have you done throughout your time here?
When I first began working at JSI, I was working on a family planning project that was funded by USAID. I got to spend several months in Zimbabwe and Togo, where we had regional offices that I helped set up. I also had the opportunity to go to Uganda and Tanzania. After a couple of years working from the Boston office, JSI sent me to Togo to be the project’s regional administrator. A little scary, but a chance of a life time.
In 1998, I left JSI to get my master’s in public health at the University of North Carolina and came back 16 years ago to help set up the JSI/World Education HIV Center. In addition to my HIV work, I’m an associate director working closely with country programs in Ethiopia, South Africa, and India where we are establishing a local JSI.
“Overall, by working in public health and living with HIV, I can apply my personal life to my professional life, which means a lot to me.”
You mentioned you helped set up the HIV Center; can you explain how they came to be?
Before there was any large global funding for HIV, we worked in the U.S. addressing the needs here. Internationally, we had projects that were integrating HIV into existing family planning and maternal child health projects, but there were no stand-alone HIV projects. JSI and World Ed recognized that HIV was a huge public health issue and that the funding would come. Within the first couple months of the establishing the center, we won a big project in Uganda and we’ve been off and running ever since.
That is great! Throughout the years, how have you seen the HIV work change?
There are a couple of things. HIV funding is a lot more focused technically and geographically with the availability of more data and new science. A decade ago, it was more about a national response and evenly distributing resources. Today, the work in the U.S. is more concentrated on distributing resources where there are a greater number of people living with HIV and we are seeing the same thing internationally.
Another big change is the medicalized response. By being able to use drugs for treatment and prevention, as well as approaches like male circumcision, there is now a very clinical response to the epidemic. We are looking less at the structural barriers that put people at risk. Not necessarily the right thing, but it’s where the field has gone.
You have been working in public health for a long time. What attracted you to this field?
I started in public health because I was interested in health care, but what really changed it for me was the emergence of the HIV epidemic. I started college in 1984, so HIV was just starting to become an issue. By the late 80s it was widespread and that was all anyone talked about. As a gay man, it gave me something within public health to wrap a lot of passion around and to feel like I was making a contribution to a community that I am a part of.
Furthermore, I have been living with HIV for 20 years now, so it is not just a job; I am a client. I take my pills every day and I go to clinics. I have a real-world experience. I realize that I am privileged to live in Massachusetts with HIV, but I still deal with stigma, disclosure, and many other things. Overall, by working in public health and living with HIV, I can apply my personal life to my professional life, which means a lot to me.
Can you tell us something else about yourself that most people don’t know?
For one night only, I performed on Broadway in New York City. We will leave it at that.