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Renowned HIV pioneer writes book about treating AIDS since its beginning, and the “dysfunctional” U.S. health care system
Michael Saag, M.D., went into medicine with the intent to become a cardiologist. But in 1981, as the first cases of AIDS were being described in Los Angeles and New York City, Saag found his way to his specialty in infectious diseases because of an interest in solving medical mysteries.
In the more than three decades since, this director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for AIDS Research has become an internationally renowned expert in HIV and in treating patients with AIDS and is widely recognized for helping turn the most deadly virus in human history into a manageable chronic disease.
To both chronicle his journey and shine a light on a broken health care system, Saag is releasing his first book, “Positive.” From stories of his childhood as a young Jewish boy whose mother knew he would be a doctor to the harrowing tales of his patients and the valiant fight against HIV/AIDS, “Positive” tells all from Saag’s life on the front lines of this disease. The result is a behind-the-scenes look at how the research happened and was rapidly translated into practice.
“I wanted to tell the story of the AIDS epidemic and how, by people pulling together for a common cause, we converted HIV from a near-certain death sentence into a chronic, manageable condition,” said Saag, a professor of Medicine in the UAB School of Medicine.
While “Positive” is a book for people affected by HIV/AIDS, Saag says it is also for anyone impacted by the U.S. health care system — everyone.
“I wanted to shine a light on our current health care system in order to point out the cracks and crevices that exist there, as well as to create a dialogue,” Saag said. “We need to look at the big picture of who we were before the Affordable Care Act and where we want to be in the long run when it comes to health care.
“Through the book, I use as many patient stories as I can to illustrate both the suffering and the triumph,” Saag said. “Just as with each HIV patient I encountered, similar but unique situations exist for every person who encounters our health care system today. The parallel of those stories — patients with HIV, and people experiencing our system without HIV — sets up a contrast that hopefully will change the system.”
Saag says he would like to help spark that change and see more uniformity and less fragmentation in a system that is much more accountable to those who are paying for it than those who are served by it.
“We need a system that is predictable in terms of knowing what we’re going to get when we walk in the door,” Saag said. “It’s a fairly compelling personal story of how people suffered, and people responded in a way that created pretty fabulous outcomes. My hope is that, through experiencing that story in the book, we will be motivated to pull together in a similar way to change our health care system for the better.”