YAKIMA, Wash. -- Living 30 years after testing positive for HIV is cause for major celebration. When she considered ways to do that, Julie Lewis decided to go big, starting a global project to help others.
In April 2014, Lewis and her family founded the 30/30 Project to bring health care facilities to communities impacted by HIV/AIDS. The goal was to fund and build 30 clinics around the world, Lewis told Downtown Yakima Rotary Club members Thursday.
The 30/30 project is now in the process of building 28 clinics in partnership with Construction for Change. Those projects in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Togo, South Africa, India and Malawi, along with the cities of Seattle and Kent, provide access to quality, affordable health care to those who need it most — other women, girls and families who haven’t had the same access to the health care that Lewis has had.
“It’s about life and death. ... It’s about education,” said Lewis, a former science teacher who along with founding the 30/30 Project has worked since 2011 as the co-director of global partnership development for Seattle-based Construction for Change.
“Ultimately it’s about opportunity — the chance to live a productive life,” Lewis added.
She gave birth to her first daughter, Teresa, in 1984. Due to pregnancy complications, Lewis received a blood transfusion and was infected with HIV. When diagnosed in 1990, she was given just a few years to live.
By then Lewis had already given birth to two other children, Laura and Ryan. Her son, of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, is a DJ and Grammy-award-winning producer.
Although her children each had a 25 percent chance of being born HIV-positive, they were not infected. With the right treatment today, the risk of mother-to-child transmission is less than 2 percent.
Such treatment is still out of reach for many around the world who are struggling with the most basic health care needs — and that’s where the 30/30 Project is making a difference.
“We are building a clinic and nursing school in Uganda,” Lewis said, noting that many mothers in some African counties choose to have their babies at home, without the help of others, because they cannot afford hospital fees and don’t want to risk the possibility of getting no care despite often long journeys on foot.
“Not only is this dangerous, it does nothing to prevent mother-to-child transfer of HIV,” she said.
Lewis, who lived in Yakima as a young child while her father was a high school principal, hopes the 30/30 Project inspires a positive chain reaction.
“Here we are at the end of our five-year project. I would like to not think of it as the end,” she said. “Our legacy goes on by strengthening health care partners and by empowering our global partners around the world.”
By carefully vetting the already well-established organizations they partner with, the 30/30 Project and Construction for Change strive to ensure they sustain themselves for at least 30 years after projects are complete. Lewis answered a few questions about that process after speaking.
Health care is a human right, Lewis likes to say. She thinks her father and father-in-law, strong supporters of their communities, would agree.
“Being that both were Rotarians, I’m sure they’re smiling down at us today,” she said.