The Union Democrat

Rememberin­g Colin Powell


As we watched the moving funeral service of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, I reflected on meeting him when he visited Nairobi, Kenya, in 2001, where I was serving as a representa­tive of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He met with various Kenyan leaders and spoke at an event on HIV in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. I arranged for Patricia Oluoch, a Kenyan AIDS activist to be on the program. Rather than facing the audience, Patricia turned directly to Secretary Powell to tell him about her experience­s living with HIV and describe to him the death of her husband and son due to AIDS. She was an imposing figure, a large woman dressed in a formal business suit, and as she finished speaking, she opened her jacket to reveal a T-shirt that was emblazoned with the words: “I am living with HIV. I need AIDS drugs.” Some U.S. government officials were upset that she went “offscript” to make such a direct appeal to the U.S. secretary of state. In 2003, President George W. Bush announced the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, which provided funds for AIDS drugs and treatment in Africa and has changed the course of the HIV epidemic, saving millions of lives.

Secretary Powell returned to Kenya in late 2003, and I was able to talk with him briefly, telling him that Patricia was now on the AIDS drugs. He told me that he had thought of her often and was so glad to hear that she was doing well. An aspect of Secretary Powell's distinctio­n was that he not only advocated for big changes, such as PEPFAR, but also remembered unique individual­s who benefitted from his vision. Elizabeth Marum, PH.D


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