The Heroine Next Door Excerpt

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Heroine_Next_Door_coverWe need one another Ayesha hugged Leila and adjusted her scarf before focusing on her presentation. “If past is prologue,” she began,“ public health responses to Ebola mirror past responses to HIV and other viruses. We see patterns emerging of viruses benignly co-existing with natural hosts e.g., ducks and fruit bats, before jumping species and, either wiping out their new hosts or re-sculpting human immune systems to withstand future onslaughts. The fear, hyperbole and ignorance on display in social media are occurring against a backdrop of healthcare workers struggling on the disease frontlines to save lives. Is it any wonder that a Liberian doctor reached for ARTs to save his Ebola-infected patients’ lives, even though the mechanism of replication of this virus differs from that of HIV? Anecdotal successes, however, are not substitutes for systematic research. Let me return to the subject. Therefore, we commend valiant healthcare practitioners and researchers across the globe who are collaborating to expedite the development of suitable monoclonal antibodies, antivirals, antibiotics and appropriate vaccines.

We hope that one or more effective therapies will be available in a matter of months rather than years. However, in the absence of a cure, we have to ask ourselves if this country can afford the status quo of managing HIV and TB as chronic illnesses. As you heard from Dr. Hassan, we (and our international partners) have made enormous progress in disseminating medications to more patients and effectively integrating disease management in some clinics. I am happy to report that we have developed methods to assist in accurately identifying both microbes–a tall order as this audience knows all too well, because of patient demographics and the long latency period of years for HIV and TB.”

“The Holy Grail remains a cure for two of the diseases associated with high mortality rates in this country. Well, here are we with the science?” Ayesha proceeded to outline promising early results from vaccine trials involving co-infected patients, highlighted new antivirals and antibiotics that had proven superior to standard-of-care drugs in preclinical models, stricter monitoring of drug-drug interactions, and the fast-tracked approval of mobile diagnostic kits. The latter item elicited enthusiastic applause from the “born-free” and other representatives from his company. She felt relieved that her talk had gone over well and, concluded with a brief introduction of one of her collaborators.

“Our final speaker from the Netherlands, Dr. Gerhard Horst, will round out the morning’s HIV/TB talks with a discussion of other research challenges such as immune reconstitution inflammatory syndromes and the limited availability of pediatric drug formulations. Oh, ladies and gentlemen, please do not forget to check out the latest tweets on open access research manuscripts about HIV and TB drug resistance, courtesy of the Southern African Treatment Resistance Network.61,62 Thank you.”

The meeting adjourned with friendly exchanges between Ayesha and Leila and promises that a road map toward achievable goals would be developed within weeks.

About Zeena Nackerdien:Zeena Nackerdien

Zeena Nackerdien is a dual US and South African citizen. She obtained a PhD degree in Biochemistry from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Zeena has been a research chemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland and a senior research associate at The Rockefeller University in New York.

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She is the author of several publications in scientific journals and two poetry collections, “Mist Over Peace” and “Scatterlings.” As a scientist turned patient advocate and writer, she is intensely interested in building relationships with people from different cultures through storytelling and education. Zeena currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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