Hansel Tookes is a University of Miami doctor who holds a degree in public health and has felt called to a life of public service, so when he saw a man named Jose De Lemos living beneath a tree at Jackson Health System’s immunology clinic, he wanted to talk to him, find out more about him, and get him the help that he needed to be well. That was the beginning of a quest towards fighting HIV one needle at a time, and it is an inspiring story that may encourage you to get your public health degree online so that you can help others as well.Jose’s Story
Jose De Lemos had become infected with both Hepatitis C and HIV after he used a shared needle. He had been sick for nearly a year without receiving any treatment, and he had lost a considerable amount of weight—80 pounds, to be exact—as a result. He also suffered from an uncomfortable rash on his chest and his leg, as well as from night sweats, and walking caused pain too.
Even though Jose did not want to speak with Dr. Tookes, the medical professional insisted and ended up sending the patient to dermatology. Treatment included medications for Hepatitis C and HIV, and Jose was also given a bed in rehab. Dr. Tookes also spoke with Jose about his own battle with creating a syringe exchange program within South Florida, as that is the type of program that may have been able to prevent Jose’s infections in the first place.The Doctor’s Work
Beyond his medical career, Dr. Tookes also works as a public health advocate in the city of Miami. The area’s new HIV infection rates are always topping the national charts, as well as the state charts. So he struggled for several years to try to get a bill to pass in Florida’s legislature that would create a special program within Miami-Dade County. However, in the time that he was working on advocating for this type of program, he went from being a medical student to being a doctor. He testified multiple times in front of legislative committees and saw firsthand how difficult it was to get even a modest proposal that could save lives while boosting public health.Steps Towards Change
Congress has lifted the ban on federal funding that could be provided to needle exchange programs, which was good news for Dr. Tookes. However, the federal money can’t be spent on the needles themselves, and a bill in Florida specifies that public money can’t be used towards the program. So Dr. Tookes has to work on raising the money and proving that his idea will work on reducing the infection rate in the city.
If Dr. Tookes and Jose can make a difference, so can you. If their story has inspired you and you want to make a difference as well, consider getting your masters in public health online so that you can have the degree, education, and skills to enter the dynamic field of public health and work with people in need.