Even In Our Midst: Drawing Parallels Between Rural Africa and Upstate New York

EGPAF Senior Director of Country Management, Dr. Stephen Lee.


On February 26, 2013, EGPAF’s Senior Director of Country Management and Support, Dr. Stephen Lee delivered a lecture on the challenges involved in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in rural settings to more than 150 students at State University of New York (SUNY) Potsdam.

Dr. Lee knows firsthand the stark realities of providing HIV/AIDS treatment to people living in resource-limited environments. He manages the development and implementation of programs that provide prevention, care, and treatment services to individuals affected by and infected with HIV and AIDS, and he champions building stronger health systems in rural communities around the world.

The visit to the SUNY Potsdam Campus was the culmination of a three-day tour of Planned Parenthood sites in upstate New York. Dr. Lee was accompanied by Betsy Brown, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood in North Country, New York.

While at SUNY Potsdam, Dr. Lee also met with members of the Potsdam AIDS Education Group, an on-campus organization dedicated to providing students with accurate and current information about prevention, confidential HIV testing at Student Health Services, and outreach opportunities to local and regional agencies.

Dr. Lee said his visits revealed surprising similarities between the difficulties patients encounter when trying to access HIV/AIDS treatment in both rural Africa and rural New York. Americans living in outlying areas of New York also have to travel long distances between clinics, face stigma in their communities, and have limited access to HIV/AIDS care.

Furthermore, there are only two doctors in North Country who provide HIV treatment and care, Dr. Lee said.

“It was very eye-opening to realize this existed in rural communities in the U.S.,” Dr. Lee said. He added that despite limited resources, there was a strong commitment on the part of staff to serve the health needs of rural communities in North Country New York.

“There still seems to be challenges with stigma around HIV in these (rural) settings,” Dr. Lee said, adding that during the lecture, students proposed community peer counseling to help overcome the fear expressed by many around testing.

Students also stressed that outreach programs should focus on addressing men, who are widely believed by researchers to be more reluctant to seek medical care.

Lee said he hopes the audience walked away from the lecture asking how they could provide better access to HIV/AIDS support in rural communities throughout upstate New York.

Chelsea Bailey is Communications Assistant for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.