Doctors, lawyers give gift of time
Dana Lacey, Financial Post, December 05, 2009
In the spring of 1987, Princess Diana shocked the world by shaking the hand of an HIV positive patient. Dec. 1 of that same year marked the launch of World AIDS Day to raise awareness and control the pandemic. Since then, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people. Right now, more than 33 million people are living with HIV. The overwhelming majority live in Africa, where a year’s supply of anti-viral medicine costs nearly $3,000, up to 10 times the typical yearly salary.
In Canada, some professionals can earn more than that in a matter of days. All Dr. Jane Philpott wants is one day.
Dr. Philpott is the founder of the Give a Day to World AIDS Campaign, which helps companies mobilize their employees to donate a day’s pay to help combat AIDS. “Everyone understands a disease like breast cancer, but a lot of us don’t understand HIV because we don’t know people who have it,” she says.
While not a charity itself, the campaign has raised more than $2-million for its recommended charities, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Dignitatis International. “Both are based in Canada and run by people we trust,” she says.
Dr. Philpott has spent more than half of her medical career in West Africa, where she witnessed the initial AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. “I’ve seen firsthand the heartache of watching someone die from HIV and what it does to a family,” she says. “I wanted to use that experience to challenge my colleagues to connect on some of these global health issues. But I didn’t want to just educate without giving them a way to do something.”
On World AIDS Day in 2004, she created Give a Day as a one-time campaign at the Markham Stouffville Hospital. The response was inspiring: 50 doctors donated a day’s pay and raised $33,000. Other physicians told her they wanted in. After that, Dr. Philpott expanded Give a Day to 13 other hospitals, including the Hospital for Sick Children, St. Michael’s Hospital and Toronto East General Hospital. Several small businesses followed. In 2006, the lawyers got involved.
“Once Give a Day hit the legal community, the campaign went wild and spread very dramatically,” Dr. Philpott says. Today, 14 of Canada’s largest law firms are participants, from the highest levels of senior partners to support staff. “The beautiful thing is, we’re all giving the same amount, even if the dollar amounts are different.”
Several firms also donate seed money for campaign administrative costs, although Dr. Philpott hopes to secure a business sponsor that will allow Give a Day to engage more people and hire more staff (they now have one part-time paid employee). Last year, the campaign raised more than $700,000 from more than 1,000 Canadians. This year, Dr. Philpott hopes to top $1-million.
“The number of people involved in the campaign makes you realize that people do care about AIDS, even if you don’t hear about it in the news anymore. The reality is that thousands die everyday from the illness. We work almost every day of the year, but on World AIDS Day, we’re not working for ourselves.”