Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hilltopper, Hoya, M.D. ... Ambassador

Today's news includes a story about a high school and college classmate of mine, Mark Dybul, who was sworn in on Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the new U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last month, putting a local slant on it,

Mark Dybul, a Whitefish Bay native, has been named by the White House to be U.S. global AIDS coordinator and will lead the implementation of President Bush's emergency plan for AIDS relief.

The position comes with a rank of ambassador and will involve travel to the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia to oversee President Bush's $15 billion program to combat spread of the disease.

"It is humbling and inspiring to be given the chance to serve the American people and to touch the lives of people around the world," said Dybul....

Dybul was confirmed by the Senate on Aug. 3 and will be sworn in at a private ceremony on Oct. 10. His parents, Claire and Richard Dybul of Whitefish Bay, will travel to Washington to attend.

"We wouldn't miss this for the world," said Richard Dybul, 74, who is retired from the construction business.

Technically, I suppose, we were not "classmates," in the sense that we never attended classes together. In fact, Mark was four years behind me at both Marquette University High School in Milwaukee and at Georgetown University. But because we were on the same debate team at Marquette High and I coached at the Georgetown Summer Forensics Institute when Mark was part of the Philodemic Society, we knew each other. (If I were particularly cheeky, I would scan Mark's yearbook photo from his freshman year at MUHS and post it here. But I choose to be kind.) Let's just say we traveled in the same circles.

As an alumnus of Georgetown's debate team, Mark is part of a legacy that includes Democratic political strategist Bob Shrum, Bill Clinton's lawyer Robert S. Bennett, St. John's University law professor John Q. Barrett (also an MUHS alum), space travel entrepreneur Charles Chafer, National War College professor Michael Mazarr, investment banking and derivatives expert Bradley Ziff, and many others.

I actually have not seen Mark in more than a decade -- perhaps much longer than that. It's good to see him rise to a position of such prominence and responsibility. I have to say, however, that the usual route from Georgetown to an ambassadorial appointment is through the School of Foreign Service rather than the College and Medical School.

The swearing-in ceremony was accompanied by remarks by both Secretary Rice and First Lady Laura Bush, who both had kind things to say.

Secretary of State Rice began by noting the presence of Mark's family:
I am truly honored and delighted to have the opportunity to swear in Mark Dybul as our next Global AIDS Coordinator. I am pleased to do that in the presence of Mark's parents, Claire and Richard; his partner, Jason; and his mother-in-law, Marilyn. You have wonderful family to support you, Mark, and I know that's always important to us. Welcome.
She then summed up what his responsibilities will be in his new post:
The fight to eradicate AIDS is really one of the great moral callings of our time. Mark is the right person to carry on this great program and this great cause. He brings of course a deep commitment to the role from his years in public service and in public health. He studied AIDS as a researcher and as a doctor and he's gained a full understanding of the virus.

But it's not enough for Mark to simply have been someone who understood this virus; he wanted to do something about it. And so he's been a policy maker who has confronted the disease's tragic effects on individuals and families and communities.

When we were standing out in the anteroom, Mark said that he misses being a physician and his contact with individual patients. But as the First Lady said to him, he is of course now having an extraordinarily broad impact on the lives of so many. Mark takes the helm at a time when the United States has dedicated enormous resources and enormous energy to combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS. It's not an easy path. It's a path that still in many ways needs to be plowed. But we're making headway through the President's Emergency Plan, and now in its third year PEPFAR is on pace to meet our five-year, $15 billion commitment for prevention, treatment and care. The Emergency Plan is the single largest international initiative by any country for any disease and we're making progress each step along the way; one more orphan, one more patient is taken care of or treated, and one more person can live with the disease.
Then the First Lady offered a few comments:
Mark has already made a huge difference as Acting, Deputy, and Assistant Global AIDS Coordinator. I've seen the results of his work as I've visited PEPFAR projects around the world -- from a program in Russia that helps HIV-positive children lead healthy lives, to South Africa's Mothers to Mothers-to-Be program, which helps HIV-positive pregnant women deliver babies free of HIV.

Secretary Rice mentioned Mark's long career in health policy, and how he brings immense experience and expertise to his new position. Yet what distinguishes Dr. Dybul is his creativity. For PEPFAR to succeed, its resources must be used wisely. And from the initiative's very beginning, Mark's innovation has helped widen PEPFAR's reach. He's ensured that HIV prevention programs are integrated with treatment and orphan care. He works with other federal agencies to streamline our development efforts, combining AIDS relief with economic assistance, food aid, and the work of the President's Malaria Initiative.

PEPFAR works with partner governments and local relief programs to develop effective treatment and prevention. But the challenges presented by HIV and AIDS are too great for governments to address alone. Mark brings together people of all political persuasions, of many nations and backgrounds, from governments and the private sector, to address a challenge that faces all of us. He's committed to working with businesses, foundations and individual philanthropists who have a tremendous interest in aiding the developing world.

In fact, just this year, thanks to Mark's leadership, I've announced two PEPFAR-related public-private partnerships. In March, the federal government joined several pharmaceutical companies to help them improve access to pediatric AIDS medicines, and to develop HIV therapies that are safe for children. Last month, at the Clinton Global Initiative, I announced the PlayPumps alliance, an initiative that will use children's merry-go-rounds to pump clean drinking water for 10 million sub-Saharan Africans by 2010.

Ambassador Dybul's leadership comes at a crucial time. Around the world, nearly 40 million people are infected with HIV or AIDS. But to Mark, those 40 million people are more than a statistic. In addition to his public health expertise, his leadership skills, and his creative policy work, Mark is first and foremost a physician. To Dr. Dybul, these 40 million people are individual patients, each deserving comfort, compassion and care, and a chance to lead healthy and happy lives.
Finally, Dr. Dybul responded:
It is humbling and inspiring to be sworn in to succeed Ambassador Randy Tobias as the second U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. Randy’s leadership, management capabilities and personal style put the pieces in place to get the initiative off to a rapid start.

But today is not about an individual who fills a position. Today is a time to reflect on the extraordinary fact that there is such a position as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator at all.

It was only a little more than 3 years ago that President Bush changed the world with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. When the history of global public health is written, the launch of the largest international health initiative in history dedicated to a single disease will be remembered as one of the boldest and most important actions – ever.

As Dr. Peter Piot of UNAIDS has said, the commitment of $15 billion across 5 years changed the global landscape from millions of dollars to billions of dollars. More important than the quantum increase in dollars was the insistence that those dollars achieve results – that we meet aggressive prevention, treatment and care goals in a defined period of time....

Individuals, communities and nations are taking ownership of their lives and are beginning to turn the tide against the epidemic. Young men and women are choosing behaviors that protect them against infection or reduce their risk of acquiring it. When accurate information is provided, personal responsibility is taking hold.

We are beginning to see social norms change – a church that taught polygamy now teaches monogamy, young men are teaching their peers that men must respect women.

Health facilities are expanding rapidly to provide medical interventions for prevention, counseling and testing and compassionate care and treatment.

And many lives are being saved.
Notably, earlier this year, when Mark's nomination was announced, The Washington Blade reported that he was to become
the third openly gay person to hold a U.S. ambassadorial position. President Clinton appointed businessman and philanthropist James Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg. In his first term in office, Bush appointed gay career Foreign Service Officer Michael Guest as ambassador to Romania.
Maybe we really are in the 21st century.

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