LCHC Doc brings hope and health to those living with HIV
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans represent only 14% of the U.S. population, yet account for 44% of new HIV infections and 46% of people living with HIV. Dr. Hanna Haptu’s mission is to do something about this. She is a primary care physician and the Medical Director of Lynn Community Health Center’s HIV/AIDS Program.
Dr. Haptu’s interest in infectious disease, especially HIV/AIDs, is rooted in her childhood. Originally from Eritrea, Dr. Haptu grew up in Ethiopia, and came with her family as a refugee to the United States when she was 16. “I come from a third world country, and have seen first-hand what can happen when people don’t have access to medical care,” she says. “Here in the United States we also have people who don’t have access to care. I wanted to serve these people. I wanted to make a change in their lives.”
Dr. Haptu’s journey to medical school began in, of all places, a department store. She was going to college and working at Montgomery Ward when a customer struck up a conversation with her about where she was from. Coincidentally, the school Dr. Haptu had attended in Ethiopia was founded by someone this woman knew. She asked Dr. Haptu what she wanted to do in America. “I told her I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “So she invited me to her church and introduced me to a group of doctors who became my mentors.”
Dr. Haptu completed her medical training at Creighton University School of Medicine and Boston University Center for Infectious Disease, and her residency at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston.
She has experienced a significant transformation in the diagnosis and treatment HIV/AIDS since she first began to practice medicine. “When I began to work in the field, HIV was a death sentence. As a doctor it was my job to make them comfortable as they prepared to die. Now with new treatments, HIV is a manageable chronic disease. It is a very serious disease, yes, but now my patients have hope.”
Lynn Community Health Center is the leading provider of HIV-related primary and specialty care in Greater Lynn. An important part of the program is a free, confidential, testing service, available either by appointment or walk-in. The health center tests about 1300 people each year, and has 130 HIV patients in its program. “It is vital that people know their status,” says Dr. Haptu. “It is very painful when someone learns they are HIV positive. But it is best to learn early, when they are strong and healthy. We can then work together to keep them that way. My patients become almost like family. I have many who I have been seeing for 10 years or more.”
If someone is diagnosed as HIV positive, they can see a doctor that same day for an initial appointment. They learn about the array of services offered at the health center that are crucial in the treatment of HIV. Clients have access to social workers and case managers, behavioral health and substance abuse services, dental care, eye care, and laboratory services – all on site.
Anyone can access Lynn Community Health Center’s confidential services. Visit 269 Union Street or 29 Market Square, or call 781-715-6237 with any questions.