Forbes | I first met the virus as a young surgical resident in training. I read the initial 1981 report of five people in California who died of a mysterious, unnamed disease. The virus outsmarted and outran us. The first year, we watched helplessly as a few hundred people died. The next year, a few thousand, then a hundred thousand, then a million. And eventually three million people dying every year, that’s more people than died in the entire Korean and Vietnam Wars combined, every year.
I realized the scale of human suffering on my annual medical mission trips to Africa. My clinics overflowed with AIDs patients. The virus hollowed out entire societies, taking first the most productive members at the prime of their lives — teachers, police, civil servants, mothers. In Botswana, life expectancy plummeted to 39 years of age!
Yes, it was time to act. Not just to listen, not just to talk, but to act.
In 1994, I ran for the US Senate, and won. As the only doctor in the Senate, I shared my medical experiences in Africa with my Senate colleagues, so they’d understand the magnitude of destruction caused by this single virus. I brought back pictures of emaciated patients lying three to a single cot, dying of AIDS.
One afternoon in my Senate Majority Leader office, I receive a call from the Office of the President of the United States. “Could you come to a small, confidential dinner with the President in the Red Room of the White House? Please say nothing to anyone about this meeting.”
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