Miguel Salcedo-Gomez is an intelligent man with a very long lens on his objectives. Miguel is a medical doctor from Columbia who wants to further HIV research and treatment in his homeland. After medical school, he spent seven years earning a PhD in Japan researching HIV drugs that can bypass the blood/brain barrier. “Many HIV patients who are otherwise well maintained develop early onset dementia because the treatments cannot access the brain.”
Now, Miguel is a post-doc at Texas Tech Medical School. He lives in a small apartment with memorabilia from South America and Asia and studies ‘elite controllers’; people who have HIV but never develop full-blown AIDS. Their CD4 cell counts never decrease. Miguel studies tissue samples that have been collected from an overwhelmingly Caucasian study group from across the United States. “This may imply an ethnic bias to who is an ‘elite controller’ or it may be related to the prevalence of white males who agree to be part of HIV studies.”
Doing an international post-doc, especially in the United States, is a positive career move for Miguel. His J-1 visa allows him to work here up to five years, but he’s hoping his post-doc will be over in three. “I am almost forty. I should not still be a post-doc at age forty-five. I want to do work in my home country.” There is little HIV research in Columbia. “Diagnosis and treatment of HIV in Columbia is good, but research is more focused on public health issues like tuberculosis and malaria. It’s also a taboo in our culture to deal with HIV. I decided to work in HIV because I like the topic and want to be a pioneer.”
Miguel still retains his Columbian health insurance, which costs $70 per month. It allows him to access their system when he is home. “Texas Tech covers my insurance here, which is over $600 per month.” That is just one example of how Miguel sees life in Bucaramanga, Columbia as better than in the United States. “Life there is much more advanced than El Paso.”
I asked Miguel how Columbia managed to turn around the problems of the Medellin Drug Cartel. “We Columbians were tired of being labeled as drug lords. Columbians wanted to change and show the world a different face. We worked with the US to change the reality of the drug situation. The government stressed education: we’re all bilingual. The media began to show Columbia in a different light. Columbia is much more than illegal drugs. Columbia is beautiful. We have 20% of the bird population in the world.
“Economic change occurred as a result. During Escobar there were two to three flights a day between the US and Columbia. Now there are at least ten cities in the US connecting to at least five in Columbia. I am never stopped in an airport with a Columbian passport. I get a stamp and a welcome.
“We learned a lesson. Citizens must be involved in governing the State because we are part of the State.”
Miguel segues comments of his homeland to a local example. Miguel bikes to work, no easy task in El Paso. He attended a City Hall meeting to advocate for a citywide bike plan. “Four people showed up. The other three drove cars to the meeting. The city won’t invest in bicycles if only four show up.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I envision more competition: for water, for resources, and for energy. I want to be optimistic, but it’s difficult. We have summits every year, but they lead nowhere. How vicious this planet is going to be if we don’t stop doing what we are doing. I hope the next generation will be more aware of how to sustain so many people on such a small planet.”