The seed for Project: Zero Ohio was planted six years ago in the place where physician Randy Sharma helps people on a daily basis: his office.
An HIV-positive patient with no health insurance was putting off getting the pricey tests he needed to help keep the virus in check. When he finally had the tests, they showed his health had deteriorated. He still couldn’t afford treatment. Sharma was flummoxed to find his patient didn’t qualify for aid. Like so many people, Sharma’s patient made too much to qualify for assistance but not enough to afford his medications at retail price.
“I work in a practice where we have quite a few HIV patients. If I’m not aware of the lack of funding, the general public isn’t aware of the lack of funding,” he said.
Now Sharma — along with Columbus drag queen Nina West and Candle Lab owner Steven Weaver — runs Project: Zero Ohio, raising awareness about how hard it can be for HIV patients to pay for treatment and medication. The “zero” in the name represents the goal of zero HIV/AIDS patients in Central Ohio who go without the care they need.
“You have to set high goals,” Sharma said. “I’ve seen the way Columbus rallies behind things … we have enough giving corporations in this city that, if we raise awareness, I think it’s certainly possible.”
Project: Zero Ohio raises money through sales of special Candle Lab candles, Stinkybomb soap (crafted by Megan Green, a 2011 Alive Person to Watch), celebrity bartending gigs, restaurant fundraisers and other one-off events. Keep your eyes peeled for details on a benefit concert at The Bluestone on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.
The candles and soap in particular, Sharma said, are great ways to get people talking about HIV and support local businesses.
“It starts a conversation, which is so important right now,” he said.