‘Let’s Talk About It’

D.Q. Jackson of Malama Pono works to limit the spread and effects of AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases. His work includes a needle exchange program, in which 61,000 are exchanged annually. Coco Zickos photo

The Malama Pono director says that’s the best way to tackle difficult issues

D.Q. Jackson isn’t shy. The Malama Pono executive director is not afraid to confront issues such as sexual abuse or hepatitis transmission head-on.

Hoping to make it easier for others to talk about these difficult topics, too, one of the many activities Jackson and his diseaseprevention organization are involved in is the radio show Let’s Talk About It.

“We’ll talk about any topic, no matter how generally forbidden, so to speak, because it’s what happens on Kaua’i. The more we talk about it, the more we can address these problems,” Jackson says of the program that airs Saturdays at 8 a.m. on 98.9FM in collaboration with the YWCA and Kaua’i Hospice. “You can expect absolute honesty from all of us to the best of our ability.”

The three nonprofits started working together in recent years to help overcome economic challenges.

“We got together and tried to figure out ways in which, by working together, we could make our organizations a little safer during the economic crisis,” says Jackson.

Sharing a common bond of dedication to combating AIDS, the agencies discovered ways to share grants, an employee and even storage space.

“While our missions are complementary, we’re not so similar that we could merge,” says Jackson. “We are each unique, but we all share exactly the same problems and concerns, and they are the stigma we have to overcome and also those financial problems of any nonprofit agency on Kaua’i.”

With longtime partner Ron Clark and pooches Photo from Nick Galanate

AIDS is not the only disease Malama Pono hopes to eliminate. The organization also works to reduce the spread of infectious hepatitis B and C both major causes of liver cancer on Kaua’i along with other sexually transmitted diseases.

An estimated 1,500 Kaua’i residents are infected with hepatitis C alone.

“Most people think that in order to get hepatitis C, you’ve got to be an injection drug user, and certainly that’s one way to get the virus,” says Jackson. “But it’s a blood-borne virus that can be passed around through sex and other ways.”

Prevention efforts conducted by Malama Pono and a needle exchange program enacted through the state Legislature have helped reduce hepatitis C infection rates from 76 percent to 16 percent in certain groups.

Approximately 61,000 needles are exchanged every year on Kaua’i through the state Department of Health, Malama Pono and other agencies, where judgment is never passed.

“Our focus is strictly harm reduction,” says Jackson. “It doesn’t mean I like what some people are doing, but I do not sit in judgment. I just want to know what will reduce the harm; what will keep our island community healthier.”

Jackson and Malama Pono offer free testing for AIDS, hepatitis B and C. Coco Zickos photo

Free, confidential testing for HIV and hepatitis B and C also is available at Malama Pono, which is located on Rice Street in Lihu’e. To further inhibit transmission of hepatitis C, it also recently received a first-of-its-kind grant for a hepatitis C case management project. Anyone who may be at risk or who has been at some point in their lives is encouraged to receive the free test, which furnishes results in 20 minutes. Those who test positive are invited to partake in the program that will connect them to continual medical care, “to make sure they remain healthy,” says Jackson.

Malama Pono also conducts a case-management program for AIDS patients and ensures they receive medical attention, housing and nutrition in an effort to reduce the rate of transmission.

Originally formed in 1987 by nurses and doctors from Wilcox Memorial Hospital to assist AIDS patients through the dying process, Malama Pono has since done an effective job at diminishing its spread.

“Compared to other places, Kaua’i is markedly safer from HIV,” says Jackson.

Furthermore, death from AIDS is now a rare occurrence.

“We’ve done a very, very good job with HIV and a commendable job with hep-C, and we’re just beginning to address hep-B,” says Jackson.

Helping facilitate Malama Pono’s transition from an AIDS service organization to a more inclusive disease-prevention agency is Lehua Lopez-Mau.

Jackson hosts a weekly radio show

“D.Q. has become a model of the kind of networking, pluggedin, mission-driver leader that’s needed in today’s tech-savvy, fast-moving global non-governmental organization industry,” says Lopez-Mau, who works as a nonprofit consultant for Malama Pono. “I am simply amazed at what he’s been able to accomplish.”

Prior to Malama Pono, Jackson worked as a nurse for more than 30 years. Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Jackson left the state as soon as he figured out there were places where it didn’t snow. The Kalaheo resident attended college at Southern Illinois University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in zoology, a Bachelor of Arts in languages and a Master’s in physiology.

“I like school,” he says. Apparently so, but he didn’t stop there.

While working for a pharmaceutical company in Los Angeles, he experienced an evening at a city hospital where four individuals with gunshot wounds were rushed into the ER within the time span of two hours.

“I went right down to the college and signed up,” he says regarding Pasadena City College, where he earned his R.N.

Jackson spent 10 years working in Los Angeles ERs before he made his transition to Kaua’i with his partner of 36 years, Ron Clark.

“This was just a very comfortable place for me,” he says of the island he frequently visited prior to moving here in 1988.

With case manager/nurse Linda Arn in the Malama Pono pantry, which provides food for clients. Coco Zickos photos

Jackson worked as an ER nurse at Wilcox Memorial Hospital until his passion for helping those afflicted with AIDS starting in Los Angeles and peaking while working at an AIDS ward at Hollywood Community Hospital drove him to accept his current position at Malama Pono in 2006.

“This is another form of nursing,” he says.

The 20-year member of the Rotary Club of Po’ipu Beach supervises a staff of seven at Malama Pono, all of whom are “dedicated to the mission.”

Jackson credits the organization’s financial stability not only to his staff, but its forwardthinking board of directors.

“They’re prepared,” he says. “Whatever comes flying out of the woodwork, they’re ready for it. They want to make sure that when things finally settle down, about 24 months from now, that this agency is healthy, that is agency is solvent and that this agency is prepared to meet the needs of our community.”

“His altruism and commitment is what drives the rest of us,” says board member Dr. Jimmy Yoon, who also serves as Malama Pono’s medical director. “I can honestly say we would not be who and where we are today without him. It is because of my trust for him that my job is so much easier.”

With grant writer Kymm Solchaga

When Jackson isn’t focusing on leading the well-regarded Malama Pono, he is cruising on his boat, which he sailed from California to Nawiliwili Harbor in 1988, where it has been “happily living” ever since.

“It came through the hurricane badly damaged, but survived it. And it continues to provide me with a great source of pleasure.”

To unwind, Jackson also enjoys playing the flute and is brushing up on his piano playing.

“I started working on a Chopin prelude a couple of days ago, and suddenly realized I’m 67 years old now and my hand won’t reach that far to hit all the notes that Chopin wrote,” he says with a chuckle.

Jackson also owns, with Clark, the Jackson Clark art galleries located at Coconut Marketplace and Old Koloa Town.

There is no doubt Jackson is a busy man. Still, he continues to do all that he can to help stop the spread of infectious diseases on Kaua’i.

“We have strong support we have earned,” he says, “and give back to community by doing our best to ensure the safety of our Kaua’i families. I just love that.”