Sherrie Marie Salters is a young public health expert, medical filmmaker and media personality in New York City. She loves changing the conversation around infectious diseases, which may be harder to do now that Hollywood has helped spread rumors about those diseases.
When Hollywood makes a movie about a disease you don’t want to be mentioned, you start to wonder, “Did that person have me as a consultant?” And if you want to talk about your work in the media, there are a number of hoops you have to jump through. One: How do you find a good consultant? You can’t just call. You have to follow a really specific procedure; there are only a few people who can perform this kind of work, and only one place you can find them. Two: What information do you have to supply? Usually they are looking for specific sounds or symptoms of a disease, and sometimes they will want something on the biochemical plausibility of a disease being caused by exotic ingredients in an elaborate contraption they’re constructing, so you have to be creative in your responses.
What do they like to hear? To hear about anything. But the one thing I definitely get is a sense of how individual people may feel about a disease. So, if there is a fever somewhere that someone feels strongly about — or gets caught with — and they want to talk about that, that’s really important. The one question they ask that I absolutely love is, “How’s your love life going?” Which I’m always happy to address, because in my personal life, I’m not a famous adulterer.
If you really want to break through, it’s important to talk about treatment options — how does it work and how people are responding. It helps to talk about positives as well. You have to be able to tell the story of people’s growth, so if one person in the audience is on edge and dies, you don’t want to tell that story. When people come to our free group, even if we don’t have all the answers, they can discuss questions that people have, like, “My husband took a time-out and started eating and exercising a lot, and he seems to be doing great.” That’s an answer that can help them through this experience, because they’ve gotten to know their loved one in a way that helps them support them.
Ms. Salters is an HIV/AIDS prevention specialist, news producer and media journalist. She has been living with the virus for more than 22 years and is writing a memoir about her experiences.