It is estimated that one in five South African adults is infected with HIV. In the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal – thought to have the world's highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS – HIV prevalence in certain high-risk groups is over 50 percent. But at a July 30 presentation at the MGH's Richard B. Simches Research Center, Mark and Lisa Schwartz of New York made it clear that, although these numbers may represent the current HIV/AIDS situation in the region, they refuse to let these statistics exist in the future.
A GLOBAL GIFT: From left, Dong, Thabethe, Mark and Lisa Schwartz, Bangsberg and Walker
Thanks to the Schwartzes' recent $8.5 million gift, the MGH will be able to expand its current efforts in HIV/AIDS research and patient care in KwaZulu-Natal. This donation brings the couple's total contribution to the Partners AIDS Research Center and Bruce Walker, MD, director of the center, to nearly $14 million. But the Schwartzes have given even more than funding to develop clinical care, access to antiretroviral drugs and HIV/AIDS awareness programs. Both have spent a significant amount of time in South Africa working with Krista Dong, MD, of the Partners AIDS Research Center, and Walker, who first introduced the couple to the gravity of KwaZulu-Natal's situation.
Also present at the event was Zinhle Thabethe, deputy director of iTEACH (Integration of Tuberculosis in Education and Care for HIV/AIDS), a South African program developed with the help of the Schwartzes. Thabethe, who is HIV-positive, spoke on behalf of the HIV-positive KwaZulu-Natal residents, thanking the couple for all they have done. "Mark and Lisa have given the gift of life to people they didn't even know," said Thabethe.
Thabethe also shared a video of patients at the Ithemba Family Care Clinic, where many of those helped by the Schwartzes' generosity are treated. "I don't know how you escaped from heaven," said one woman in the video, addressing Mark and Lisa, "but you really are angels because you saved my life and my child's life."
The Schwartz donation also will be used to support the research of David Bangsberg, MD, MPH, of the Partners AIDS Research Center. Bangsberg recently joined the MGH from the University of California in San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital and will extend the MGH presence in Africa to Uganda. Through his work in San Francisco, he already has conducted HIV treatment research at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. Future plans include programs to help develop local health sciences leadership and retain African health care professionals.