Yale Outreach Worker Living with AIDS Receives Award

Karina Danvers, a Yale School of Nursing (YSN) community outreach worker who has AIDS, recently received a Commissioner’s AIDS Leadership Award from the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Danvers was cited for her volunteer work on a project to educate health care providers about HIV counseling and diagnosis. She held a workshop on the topic and shared her own diagnosis experience in a video. In 1989, her doctor informed her over the telephone that she was HIV-positive. Though he was very supportive and sensitive, Danvers explained that the doctor simply didn’t know how to convey the news. “I was his first case,” she said.

As part of YSN’s ATHENA Project, Danvers recruits people with HIV to participate in a program aimed at helping patients to properly take the antiretroviral medications that can control the virus. People may need to take 30 pills a day, with very specific instructions about eating or not eating with various medications. Failure to take antiretroviral drugs properly can actually harm the patient and allow drug resistant strains of AIDS to develop.

In nominating her for the award, Jane Burgess, also a community outreach worker at YSN, praised Danvers for “going beyond her job requirements to provide emotional support and linkages to medical care.” She also called Danvers “a tireless educator who has spoken to hundreds of health care providers, sensitizing them to the patient’s perspective and bravely sharing her own experiences and feelings.”

Danvers accepted her award on behalf of people with HIV who never had the chance to enjoy the quality of life that she does. “I am very concerned about women who don’t have choices,” said Danvers. “I feel for HIV-positive women in the developing world, where medication is scarce.”

Danvers also frequently talks with high school students about AIDS. Newtown High School dedicated its World AIDS Day ceremonies to her. After a rumor about a fictitious HIV-infected student spread around the school, Danvers did intensive work there to dispel misconceptions about AIDS.

“High school kids are very well informed about AIDS today,” said Danvers. “That wasn’t the case when I started doing this 10 years ago. But even though they have the knowledge, they still don’t go home and practice it. For example, they know they should be using condoms, but they don’t know how to use them properly.”

In living with and working around AIDS, Danvers has seen complacency replace fear. “All the activists are retired or dead,” she said. “We have become a system, and we employ quite a few people.”

She’s particularly concerned that the happy fact that people with AIDS are living longer and healthier lives will discourage prevention.

“The attitude now is, ‘It’s OK; there’s a pill for that now,” she said.

Her other AIDS work includes serving as a grant reviewer for the Ryan White Foundation and delivering meals to people with AIDS through the organization Daily Bread.

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