Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. David Aboulafia, a board member and great friend to the foundation

Dr. David Aboulafia with Dr. Binay Shah and Tara Shah, the co-founders of the Binaytara Foundation, in Nepal during his trip

Dr. David Aboulafia, a medical oncologist at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and board member of the Binaytara Foundation, visited the Binaytara Foundation Cancer Center (BTFCC) in Janakpur, Nepal in March 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining global traction and Washington state was known as the United States “epicenter.”

On March 16, just around the time Dr. Aboulafia returned from his trip, Washington state imposed strict limitations on social gatherings to contain the spread of the coronavirus. That same day, he wrote the first post on his blog, Covid Cogitations.

“I confess I did not know what a blog was just over a year ago.” Dr. Aboulafia jokingly shares. “Before I left, I was alarmed that a lot of misinformation was being disseminated concerning Sars-CoV-2 and a lot of false assumptions were taking place regarding how to contain the virus. Some of the misinformation was originating from what I had previously taken as reputable sources.”

Dr. Aboulafia’s blog began as emails with useful articles on COVID-19 he sent every few days to colleagues, family members, and close friends to help prevent the spread of misinformation. After a few weeks, his sons encouraged and helped him to start a blog.

Recently, Dr. Aboulafia wrote a post about his trip to Nepal. It has been over a year since he visited, but his detailed accounts of the local roadside sights, religious festivities of Holi, and experiences at the cancer center take readers on a fascinating, impressive journey. He also includes pictures that he randomly and spontaneously took on his smartphone.

“While I was in Nepal I felt like a sponge,” Dr. Aboulafia explains. “I wanted to see and understand as much as I could, and Binay and Tara (the founders of Binaytara Foundation) were very accommodating and in this context fantastic guides and teachers.”

Dr. Aboulafia presenting at the 3rd International Cancer Congress in Janakpur, Nepal

He had gone to Nepal to speak on lymphoma and helped organize a research workshop at Binaytara Foundation’s 3rd International Cancer Congress in Janakpur, Nepal. While there, he also gave a presentation on biomedical research alongside Dr. Binay Shah (BTF co-founder and president), Dr. Siddhartha Yadav (Mayo Clinic), and Dr. YP Singh (BTF Cancer Center).

“Until I took a brief walk through the public hospital with Binay and Tara, I could not have understood how some aspects of medical care are delivered in Nepal,” Dr. Aboulafia said.

In his post, he talks about how the price of different procedures left a strong impression on him. He recalls seeing listed prices for medical procedures and surgeries that ranged from only $75-$500 and discovered that while the care is poor, much of the population can still afford it.

Dr. Aboulafia with the staff at BTFCC after participating in the festival of Holi

Dr. Aboulafia has been involved in improving access to care and promoting health equity since early in his career. He began caring and advocating for patients with HIV-AIDS in 1984, when such patients were largely stigmatized, as an intern at the University of California, Los Angeles. Upon moving to Seattle, he became involved with the formation of the Bailey-Boushay House (BBH), a facility that served the HIV-infected community but was largely unpopular at its inception. Being the first in the country, BBH became a model for such facilities nationwide.

“The principles of social justice and health care disparities are universal, and, in this way, it is easy to draw many parallels between cancer care in less developed countries and here in the US and the care that people living with HIV receive,” Dr. Aboulafia explains. “The principles and practices promulgated by BTF provide a blueprint for this to take place in Janakpur as well as elsewhere.

Dr. Aboulafia frequently presents at our regional and national conferences and is involved in our newsletter editorial committee. He hopes to visit Nepal this coming year and not as an observer or student, but with a “dedicated purpose,” alongside some of his family and friends.

“Ultimately, what left the strongest impression on me from my first trip to Nepal was the absolute purity and commitment of the BTF to deliver compassionate and high-quality cancer care to the people of Janakpur,” Dr. Aboulafia shares.

BTF really appreciates Dr. Aboulafia’s commitment and involvement towards the foundation, thank you!

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