As a complement to the Life As A Human philosophy, this profile by Julie Harrison will be the first in the Interesting Humans series — short profiles of fascinating human beings from around the world who are making a difference.
Twenty-eight years ago, the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in Australia. Dr. Basil Donovan, a world expert on sexual health, was on the frontline. And when I say frontline, I really mean frontline.
One of the many initiatives that he crusaded for — in a team effort with Julie Bates, a sex worker and advocate — was a prevention strategy that involved mandatory condom use in brothels. Some of this work, and its inevitable heart-break, was captured in the film Rampant – How a City Stopped a Plague. Rampant tells the story of how a committed coalition of medical professionals, homosexuals, sex workers, nuns, drug addicts and politicians “broke the law, offended everyone, and saved tens of thousands of lives.”
Today, Dr. Donovan is a practicing Sexual Health Physician at the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Sydney Hospital; and Professor of Sexual Health at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, University of New South Wales. His research and policy interests include clinical and public health aspects of HIV/AIDS and other STIs; and STI prevention, particularly for priority populations such as homosexual men, sex workers, prisoners, Aboriginal people, and travellers.
How did you choose your career path?
After deciding that I had just about given up medicine, I worked as a locum at the Sydney STD Clinic and I became enthused the first morning. Nobody talked down to the customers and everyone was treated as equal.
What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to face?
The relentless deaths of young people before effective anti-HIV treatment became available.
What kind of demands, if any, does a successful career like yours make on family life?
I’m not so sure that successful is the right word. But commitment consumes a lot of time, so family life is limited.
If you didn’t work, what would you do?
What is your greatest extravagance?
Wasting time. But as Bertrand Russell said, “Time that you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time.”
What one word do you think is most commonly used to describe you?
That’s a question for someone else.
What do you consider to be your greatest life achievement to date?
Contributing to the control of HIV in Sydney and elsewhere — and surviving (just).
If you could come back to earth as another human, who would it be?
What aspect of humanity do you most deplore?
Officious public service.
What aspect of humanity do you think is most worthy of celebrating?
Compassionate public service.
“Condom Hockey” allspice1 @ flickr. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.