Wilbert C. Jordon
Leaving his office one evening, Dr. Wilbert C. Jordan was approached by a drug user who needed money. A conversation that began about a quarter evolved into a discussion about HIV and AIDS. Across the street was a mobile health unit. The addict told Dr. Jordan that the health unit’s workers were looking for drug users to test for HIV infection, but did not know where to find them. But the addict revealed that he could find them. The two struck a deal: Dr. Jordan assured the addict that if he brought him a person who was at risk for HIV infection, he would give him some money. Both men honored that deal.
The result was the creation of the Oasis Clinic, which Dr. Jordan directs today. The Clinic started in 1979, when Dr. Jordan treated his first AIDS patient, without knowing his symptoms were related to the disease. In the next 21 years, Dr. Jordan treated 3,000 clinically diagnosed HIV/AIDS patients.
The first group of those patients was comprised of four of the five people brought to Dr. Jordan by the addict he had met. In his encounter with those men, Dr. Jordan learned a critical lesson: patients who are often overlooked or ignored are actually key to winning the fight against HIV/AIDS, because the patients know other people who are at risk. This observation by Dr. Jordan led to the development of a program that has amazed many with its unexpected success and, more importantly, its simplicity. Dr. Jordan has found more than 300 patients by inviting people to bring someone they know to the clinic for HIV testing. Nearly half (48 percent) of those patients were HIV positive.
With more than half of the new cases of HIV in the United States involving African Americans, Dr. Jordan says Blacks’ need to get involved in the fight against HIV is simple. “It’s called self-preservation,” he says. And as the number of African Americans who are being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS continues to climb, Dr. Jordan feels that Black people’s approach to dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be the same as that of white gay men. People in the community, he says, must begin to explore why they participate in such potentially harmful behavior. “Black people must stop the cultural practice of having so much unprotected sex and out-of-relationship sex,” Dr. Jordan argues.
Many in the heath industry have recognized the effectiveness of Dr. Jordan’s programs. GlaxoSmithKline—one of several pharmaceutical companies funding the Oasis Clinic—decided to do more than donate money. The pharmaceutical firm has used the Oasis Clinic as the model for its newly launched “Living4Life,” a GlaxoSmithKline “Positive Action Program,” which will establish programs similar to Dr. Jordan’s in 20 cities across the country over a two-year period.
Dr. Jordan’s work is his love. He genuinely cares and is concerned about the welfare of his people, and says that his patients don’t have to have money to receive proper treatment. He says his work has taught him much about himself and his community over the years. He’s seen the power of giving patients a more prominent role in their recovery—as well as their friends’ recovery.
“For patients, this is a chance to help give others information,” explains Dr. Jordan. “When it is someone you know who is talking to you, the trust factor is higher. It brings down the stigma of getting tested, and it makes people more comfortable with the idea of going to the clinic to get treated.” He has also found that those people who bring others in become more compliant with their own medication regimens. Some of his worst, most non-adherent patients are now taking their medicine reliably.
Dr. Jordan is inspired by a personal experience, the passing of a close friend who succumbed to AIDS early in the epidemic, when people were ostracized due to ignorance of the disease. Few doctors were reaching out to African Americans at the time. Dr. Jordan’s friend was abandoned by his wife and denied access to his own children. All of his friends abandoned him, except Dr. Jordan. Today, he continues to treat his patients with the love and support his friend never received.
You don’t have to be a physician to get involved and help out in your own community. But however you decide to help, Dr. Jordan counsels, keep this philosophy in mind: “The centerpiece of HIV has to be the patient.”