Phillip Kucab, a second-year medical student, created World AIDS Day Detroit to call greater attention to the disease. Kucab said that HIV and AIDS, now that they are no longer a certain death sentence, seem to have dropped off the radar of many in the United States.
While over the last decade the media has shined the spotlight on AIDS in Africa, Kucab said, the fact that those with the condition can now live extended lives through drug therapy appears to have diminished the attention paid to AIDS in the United States. To remedy that lack of awareness, Kucab has formed World AIDS Day Detroit, which is set for Dec. 1 and coincides with the 30th anniversary of the identification of AIDS.
Many of the events scheduled for the day will feature Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, who became a symbol of HIV/AIDS victims and helped break down the social stigmas related to the disease. Ryan, a hemophiliac who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, was diagnosed in 1984. He put a different face to the disease, which at that time was largely regarded and dismissed as a disease affecting only gay men. His efforts to be accepted by his community and society at large led to friendships with celebrities such as Elton John and Michael Jackson. Ryan died at age 18 in 1990. His mother has continued his legacy of education and compassion for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones.
Kucab, a native of Sterling Heights, also is a hemophiliac. "I have lost a lot of people I know to contaminated blood transfusions," he said. Among those was his cousin, Michael Verb, a hemophiliac who contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Verb died in 1993 at age 17, Kucab said.
While Kucab launched the project, the effort has attracted the support of many School of Medicine students, as well as community agencies and leaders, including AIDS activist Max Fisher, son of AIDS activist Mary Fisher and grandson of Detroit philanthropist and businessman Max M. Fisher. Organizations supporting the project include the Wayne State University School of Medicine and Medical Library, the Michigan Department of Community Health, Affirmations, AIDS Partnership Michigan, the Michigan AIDS Coalition, Community Health Awareness Group, the STITCHES Doll Project and the Hemophilia Foundation of Michigan. Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour and WSU School of Medicine Dean Valerie M. Parisi serve on the World AIDS Day Detroit Honorary Host Committee.
The agenda includes a breakfast for mayors of Southeast Michigan sponsored by the School of Medicine and featuring Gilmour, Parisi and White-Ginder. Other events include the Michigan Department of Community Health World AIDS Day Meeting, which includes education sessions and workshops for Detroit area schools and community members; a screening of "Bad Blood," a film that chronicles how HIV entered the blood supply, with the producer, director and cast members at the Fillmore Theater; and a program in the evening featuring a keynote address by White-Ginder.
For more information on World AIDS Day Detroit and how you can participate, visit www.worldaidsdaydetroit.com.