The Journey of an Advocate
At the age of 12, during a routine medical checkup, Benjamin T. Banks ’10, a Stage V cancer survivor, received devastating news: He had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion at the age of 2 while battling cancer. Although his initial focus was to stay healthy and challenge himself to live a normal life, he has found an even more profound way to impact a larger community long term.
Today, the Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate is an Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) ambassador. “I bring life to EGPAF’s mission statement,” Ben says. “My goal is to help prevent pediatric HIV infection and to eradicate AIDS through research and advocacy.”
In May, Ben shared his experiences on a panel at the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an ambassador for EGPAF. He spoke about issues such as drug development and patient adherence to treatment, contributing to the conversation about the risks and benefits to patients.
“Less than 200 children a year are infected with HIV in the United States now,” Ben explains. “If you have access to care and treatment, you can survive. We can’t stop there; we have to keep moving forward.”
In January, he joined the Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Pediatric Antiretroviral Therapy and Management Guidelines Committee, which writes the guidelines for healthcare practitioners and researchers for HIV treatment in the United States. “My role is to give a personal perspective about when to start therapy, change it, what the side effects are, and more,” he says of the monthly meetings.
Ben is also active in his community. “I mentor kids living with HIV and educate individuals about pediatric AIDS,” he says. “I make myself available via face-to-face contact, email, phone, and Facebook to answer any questions.”
Earning his degree gave Ben the credentials to serve as an advocate for the development of healthy individuals, organizations, and communities. “My master’s degree gives me validity,” he says. “I have the credentials and the life story.”