Profiles in Medicine:
Dr. Jane Aronson
For Jane Aronson, being an infectious disease specialist isn’t enough. Neither is being a pediatrician whose practice is totally devoted to orphans and adopted children. Nor is founding a multi-million dollar foundation, Worldwide Orphans that has programs in a dozen countries and has helped thousands of children. Jane Aronson wants to improve the health and education of all children, particularly those inflicted with HIV/AIDS.
Being a pediatrician empowers her to focus on a child’s “holistic” health, she said in an interview with Education Update. Providing medicine isn’t enough if children are without proper food, shelter, and education, she contends. Aronson studied medicine after teaching high school biology for 10 years and built her Manhattan-based practice around treating children who’d been adopted from overseas. She assesses medical records of children in overseas orphanages, vaccinates adults collecting children from abroad, and counsels families of adopted children.
Yet despite the success of her practice, she knew there was more she could do. In 1997, she founded WWO, to address the needs of thousands of children living in orphanages who weren’t being adopted. Through the foundation, Aronson established training programs for health professionals and orphanage caregivers in countries in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. WWO sponsors volunteers, called Orphan Rangers, who work with local staffs. A Granny Program trains women from the communities to work one-on-one with an orphan, providing early intervention crucial to child development. WWO partners with UNICEF and the US Agency for International Development to provide anti-retroviral drugs. In Ethiopia, WWO has created a school that includes classes in art and theater and has organized an orphan soccer league. This summer, five New York high school students will become junior Orphan Rangers there, conducting recreational and enrichment activities, including teaching English, art, music, dance and sports.
Removing the stigma of AIDS continues to be a major hurdle WWO faces. “A lot of people think all we have to do is give medicine. The public in these countries needs to be educated the way we’ve been educated here,” said Aronson. WWO works at bringing people into clinics, and showing that children can live meaningful, healthy lives. People infected with HIV/AIDS must tell their stories, “one person, one village at a time,” said Aronson.
At its second gala fundraising event this past October, WWO raised over $1 million and has attracted attention from celebrities such as Bill Clinton and Angelina Jolie. Aronson, while welcoming the attention, insists that the mission remain focused on helping children live better lives around the world, noting that she’s discussing plans to extend WWO’s services in Ecuador and Guatemala.
Aronson cringes at the amount of “greed and lack of compassion” that pervades society. From an early age, she’s instilled in her three adopted children the Jewish tradition of charity, Tzedakah, and involves them in community service. Growing up in Long Island, she watched as her father, a grocer, sold on credit to poor families and remembers the living conditions people endured. The indignity she witnessed as a child, she sees in orphanages, and compels her to effect change. “It drives me to do more,” she confessed.
For more information about Dr. Jane Aronson and WWO, go to www.orphandoctor.com or www.wwo.org.