AIDS ribbon 88.
(photo credit: )
Israel AIDS Task Force activists are establishing a fund to fight AIDS in memory of Dr. Gideon Hirsch, the organization's director, who committed suicide via a drug overdose last week.
Hirsch, 47, learned that he was an HIV carrier 20 years ago while studying psychology in at Stanford University in California. After earning his doctorate, he returned to Israel to begin studying medicine at the age of 35, becoming the country's first self-identified HIV-positive medical student.
Although he had not practiced medicine in recent years, said task force spokeswoman Arik Milman, Hirsch devoted his time to the organization, which was about to close when he took over as its director in 2003.
"He realized that HIV was not a fatal disease in the West but a chronic one, in which drug treatment made it possible to have a good quality of life and contribute to society," Milman said. "Gideon was very courageous and a charismatic leader."
Milman said that Hirsch's tragic death surprised everyone, as his health was stable and that in recent years, he had accomplished much for the cause of HIV and AIDS patients and for prevention of the disease among homosexuals and others.
His body was found last Thursday in his Jaffa apartment by his only brother Arnon, who in an interview said he regularly feared Gideon would kill himself one day. Their mother Hannah committed suicide 14 years ago and their father Shaul killed himself in 2002 due to physical illness.
Hirsch, who left a short note expressing love for his brother and friends, was buried at Kibbutz Einat on Monday after an autopsy was conducted at the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir. The note did not explain why he took his own life.
Yonatan Karni, a 30-year-old behavioral science and business administration graduate of Ben-Gurion University and Hirsch's "right-hand man," will serve as the task force's new director.
Milman said that the task force "is like a close family. Nobody dreamed he would kill himself now, when everything was going so well for him.
"In March, due to his pressure, a Knesset committee will discuss the right of women who are HIV carriers to undergo in-vitro fertilization to get pregnant. He had great concern for marginalized groups in our society including intravenous drug users, asylum seekers, undocumented workers and victims of human trade," Milman said.
The task force has provided many vital services including free and anonymous HIV testing, encouraging the use of condoms and safe sex, pushing to add new HIV drugs to the basket of health services and fighting discrimination among carriers and patients.
Last year, in a newspaper interview, Hirsch said, "I would be glad to die in a room full of friends, to say good-bye with a hug and go to the bedroom to take some medication or drug and go.
"I am not afraid of death. The question is how much we put off death and what quality of life we have until then. I want to choose the day I die."
In the end, he was alone when he did it.
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