A day in the life of Aikichi Iwamoto

IAS Governing Council Member and Professor of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Advanced Clinical Research Center, Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo (IMSUT)

I left home today at around 7:30 am and walked along a lane to the subway station. Although it was cramped and surrounded by houses, the many flowers and trees along the way made me smile. The subway is a sort of library for me, the one place I always find the time to read. I have just finished reading The Facebook Effect translated into Japanese. It is quite inspiring how one young man made such a huge social network and how one idea has gone on to connect millions of people from all around the world. After 30 minutes train ride, I got to my office just before 8:30 am.

I went to the clinic at 9:00 am. Conversations with my patients were generally positive: “How are you doing Mr. X?” “Good, Doc.” “No missing pills?” “No!” Conversation continued. Two young students from St. Luke’s College of Nursing joined the session as a part of their exchange teaching programme.

I left my office at 1:00 pm and took the subway to the station near the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), where I chaired the 125th Japanese National AIDS Surveillance Committee for two hours. I have been the chair of the Committee for more than 5 years now. I then attended and reported the summary of the last 3 months during our quarterly press conference. I also reported the annual summary of 2010 to the media. According to discussions with my friends abroad, I know that the great majority of people in the world do not have any idea about the HIV situation in Japan. It is also difficult to send an effective message to the people in the country.

The epidemic in Japan is concentrated in men who have sex with men (MSM) and the percentage of people who get HIV via intravenous drug use is still very low. However, I am afraid that the number of HIV-positive people arrested due to illicit drug use is increasing. Though HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs have occurred in many places including other countries in Asia, we are not talking about the possibility yet in Japan. It is sometimes hard for me to deal with this silence and ignorance. It must be hard to face or image what they have not yet seen by themselves.

I was in the MHLW on 11 March 2011. In the middle of a break between two meetings on the general vaccine strategy of the country, a huge earthquake hit us. An officer whispered to me that trains wouldn’t run at least for another 6 hours, since every single rail joint has to be inspected after an earthquake of this intensity. So, I decided to walk back home. I had never seen so many people walking in Tokyo. The earthquake was much bigger than we had initially suspected. Many people could not manage to get back home that night. When I arrived home, I saw the footage on TV. Oh boy. Nobody had expected that a tsunami could reach 15 m high.

The authorities often admit the facts later. People in and around Fukushima are suffering now because of the meltdown at the power plant which was built to support Tokyo. We should think about them. Since 11 March, we have been supported by people from all over the world. People’s messages and support, including other members of the IAS Governing Council, have been encouraging. Japan is a country composed of islands, but we are not alone. I do hope we will manage the situation and we will overcome.

I have been a member of the Governing Council of the International AIDS Society (IAS) for five years now. I started my second term in 2010. Last November, I chaired the 24th Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society for AIDS Research. The theme was “Over the Barriers”, and more than 1,400 people attended.

Dr. Elly Katabira and Dr. Sharon Walmsley represented the IAS. On the 3rd day after the rapporteur session, we had the closing session which included a performance, talk and some drinks.

Sometimes, I go to Daigo, a small bar in Tokyo. I chat with the owner, Tarui-san, and friends from Europe, including Anja. I think of the colleagues from all over the world who have come here with me, and marvel at how Dr. Peter Piot discovered this nice little place 20 years ago, or laugh at how I scared Dr. Walmsley with some of the food I chose.

In April in Japan, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. A small secret that I can share with you is that the view from my office is the best in the campus in this season. I’d love for you to come and visit and see the beauty of the country and the view from my window, which never fails to leave me hopeful.