The Age of Aids [home page]

interviews

    Activists


Bono
Bono, née Paul Hewson, is the lead singer of the rock band U2. Throughout his career, he has involved himself in humanitarian causes; in 1997 he began working on debt relief for Africa and in 2002 he formed DATA, a nonprofit organization that stands for Debt AIDS Trade Africa. Here, he explains how his AIDS activism became an extension of that work. He also talks about his alliance with evangelical Christians: "I think [that] of evangelicals polled in 2000, only 6 percent felt it incumbent upon them to respond to the AIDS emergency," he explains. "I was deeply offended by that, so I asked to meet with as many church leaders as I could, and used examples from the Scriptures. 'Isn't this the leprosy of our age?' I argued. 'Isn't this what the Christ spent his time with?'" Bono also recounts his efforts lobbying former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) with biblical verses and his meetings with President George W. Bush, including "a good old row" about the speed at which antiretroviral drugs were being delivered to Africa under the president's $15 billion plan. "How we respond to the AIDS emergency will describe us for posterity," he tells FRONTLINE.
 


Martin Delaney
After watching desperate friends and acquaintances self-medicate with alternative therapies and black market drugs, Martin Delaney formed Project Inform in 1985 to share information and accelerate advances in treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. Here he explains how his original intent was to collect data on whether the medications people were buying in Mexico were helpful or harmful, but he quickly realized patients with life-threatening illnesses, particularly AIDS, weren't being served by the government's normal drug approval process. Delaney and his organization pushed to have AIDS patients take part in clinical trials of new drugs and at one point, held their own controversial clinical trial of an experimental drug outside of the FDA process. Several men died in the course of that trial, although Delaney points out that people die in all clinical trials and that a study of the same drug by the University of California San Francisco had similar results to his group's study. He also talks movingly about how the AIDS epidemic has changed him and estimates that 80 percent of his friends have died. "It's very hard to rebuild friendships," he says. "I'll be 60 years old by the time this interview runs, probably, so you end up living your life without the people around that you thought you were going to spend it with, the people that you had in the early part of your life."
 


Franklin Graham
The son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, Rev. Franklin Graham heads Samaritan's Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian charity dedicated to providing spiritual and material aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine. As he realized the devastation HIV/AIDS was causing around the world, Graham, in a February 2002 meeting with evangelicals -- and with Bush administration officials in the audience -- called on them to put a Christian stamp on the issue and make AIDS their new cause. Here, Graham talks about the need to provide biblically-based AIDS education and prevention efforts, and recounts how he advised former Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) to embrace people living with HIV/AIDS. "I said, 'I believe this is what Jesus would have us do." And he thanked me. He said, 'Well Franklin,' he said, 'I'm going to have to change some of the positions I've had in the past.'" He also talks about his alliance with Bono, the lead singer of U2, and how Bono also helped to convince Helms to provide funding for AIDS. "I think AIDS can be won," Graham tells FRONTLINE. "But it means behavior change. We cannot continue living in sin and think we're going to be safe and we're going to be OK. We have got to be able to fight this and attack this by using God's standards."
 


Cleve Jones
From the highs of the 1970s gay revolution to the lows of the mid-1980s when many of his friends were dying from a mysterious disease; from being near death himself to being granted a reprieve with the invention of the triple cocktail; Cleve Jones has experienced the emotional roller coaster of life as an HIV-positive individual. He was responsible for one of the most emotionally poignant symbols of the fight against AIDS: the AIDS Quilt. A lifelong political activist, Jones used his anger and despair at the deaths of many of his friends and San Francisco's Castro-district community members to fight for more recognition, funding, and acceptance of AIDS victims. Although he still struggles with controlling his own infection and the side effects that come along with the medicine -- he recently had plastic surgery to combat the fat redistribution resulting from his anti-retroviral drug regimen -- Jones works full time at the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation, which provides emotional support for HIV-positive people, and travels widely to promote AIDS education.
 


Noerine Kaleeba
In 1986, Noerine Kaleeba got a call from England, where her husband Christopher was studying to get a master's degree. Come quickly, they told her, your husband is very ill. When she arrived from Uganda, she was devastated by Christopher's deterioration. Although she was able to bring him home, Kaleeba was forced to care for her husband herself because no health care workers in Uganda would touch him. Christopher died of AIDS in January 1987 and in her grief and outrage, Kaleeba founded The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) to educate Ugandans about HIV/AIDS and to combat prejudice and stigma. TASO has reached more than 80,000 people in Uganda alone, and its programs have been exported to many other countries. Here, Kaleeba -- who now has 26 AIDS-orphaned relatives living in her house -- tells her story and recounts her interactions over the years with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, President George W. Bush and Dr. Jonathan Mann, the former head of the World Health Organization's Global Programme on AIDS. "I have met President Bush twice," she says. "He strikes me as a very brilliant, very passionate and very caring person. But when I contrast the President Bush that I have met with the policies and practices that are coming out of the United States, I can't reconcile it."
 


Larry Kramer
An iconoclastic gay rights advocate, author and playwright, Larry Kramer began sounding alarm bells soon after he read a July 1981 New York Times article about strange new cancers among gay men. He spoke with Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, one of the doctors quoted in the Times article, who told him, "We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg. … I don't think anybody is going to give a damn, and it's really up to you guys [the gay community] to do something…" Kramer hosted a series of informal gatherings to raise money and awareness. In 1982, those gatherings became the Gay Men's Health Crisis, the country's first AIDS organization. In the early years of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, he made controversial calls for gay men to stop having promiscuous sex. "It's been very difficult to criticize what we do publicly because it's considered a civil right and a private thing, which it certainly is," he says. "But when you start killing everybody, it sort of passes on into another category." In 1987, Kramer shifted his focus to finding a treatment; he co-founded the grassroots organization AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which became infamous for its protests outside the New York Stock Exchange, the Food and Drug Administration and elsewhere to force accelerated approval of AIDS drugs. After a routine blood test, Kramer was diagnosed with hepatitis B and HIV; a few years ago he was one of the first co-infected patients to receive a liver transplant. He has been angry since the beginning and he is now distraught at apathy in young gay men and women. "They don't want to know," he tells FRONTLINE. "How can you dare to ignore everything that happened? These people died so that you could live. Those drugs are out there because people died for them. … I have lost a great deal of pride in being gay."
 


Pernessa Seele
Working as an immunologist at Brooklyn's Interfaith Medical Center and Harlem Hospital during the late 1980s, Pernessa Seele was "shocked and disappointed" at Black churches' silence in the face of the AIDS epidemic among New York's African American community. "At the time there were over 350 churches in Harlem, and there was not one pastor -- no one was coming to the bedsides of these people, and they were hungry for support; they were hungry for prayers," she recalls. Seele had the idea and initiative to create the Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, which 16 years later, has become the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS and now involves 15,000 churches in the U.S. and abroad. She also founded The Balm in Gilead to support black churches engaged in the fight. "We know that the African American church is the root of our community," she explains. "It is not real until the pulpit speaks on it. That's why it was important that The Balm in Gilead began to get pulpits, the African American church, to say, number one, 'We have a crisis.'" Here, Seele talks about the need to develop prevention and education strategies appropriate for the audience you're trying to reach, and tells FRONTLINE that "inherent racism" has allowed HIV/AIDS to ravage Africans and African Americans. "When we look at the epidemic worldwide, the epidemic is raging in black communities worldwide," she says. "It is very clear to me that no one's coming to save us. Unfortunately we have not seen the response of the black community in crisis mode."
 


Phill Wilson
Phill Wilson has lived with HIV since he was diagnosed in the mid-1980s. His partner, Chris Brownlie, was also infected, and the two men became involved with the AIDS Project Los Angeles, an organization founded in the early years of the epidemic to help spread information. "It was community medicine," Wilson recalls, "and thank God for it, because there was no other medicine." Here, he talks about what it's like to live with HIV and describes Brownlie's illness and death in his arms. Wilson continued working in AIDS activism and founded the Black AIDS Institute to mobilize a response to AIDS in the African American community -- the current epicenter of the U.S. epidemic. "In my opinion, particularly on the domestic front, AIDS has been abandoned by many, many activists, and that makes me angry," he says. "Those same activists -- we thought it was just about us; we promised that we would not stop until it's over. And it's not over." He says African Americans need to develop effective prevention messages for their community.
 

 

    Policymakers


Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan has been secretary-general of the United Nations since 1997. In January 2000, the U.N. Security Council held its first session of the new millennium on the AIDS pandemic, marking the first time a Security Council session had ever been held on a health issue. The following year he announced the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Here he talks about how the Global Fund came about and his disappointment that the U.S. directed more money to President George W. Bush's bilateral President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) than to the Global Fund. Annan also recounts his discussions with some reluctant African leaders, trying to encourage them to promote condom use as a preventative measure. "Encouraging young people to postpone [sex] until they are mature, if you can get them to do it, [is] well and good," he says. "But we also know the nature of human beings, we know the nature of our society, and we know that not all the young people are going to be able to do this. So it is best for them to protect themselves if they are going to go and do it and risk being infected."
 


Bill Clinton
After leaving office in 2001, the former president started the Clinton Foundation, whose HIV/AIDS Initiative has helped reduce the cost of antiretroviral drugs and improve prevention and treatment efforts in many countries. Here he talks about fighting the epidemic at home and abroad during his presidency, including why his administration didn't pursue needle-exchange programs to help reduce the spread of HIV among injection drug users. "A lot of people wanted needle exchange … but the opposition to it was simply overwhelming." Clinton also discusses his efforts to change attitudes toward the disease in India and China, two of the so-called "next-wave" countries, and the moral imperative of rich nations in leading the fight against the pandemic worldwide. One of the biggest challenges remaining, he says, is to get medicine to the people who need it. "One of my big arguments about putting medicine out everywhere is that it's necessary for the prevention to work. Because if young people believe that going in and getting tested is just going to tell them they've got a death sentence … they're highly unlikely to get tested. But if they know if they get tested it means they've got a chance to live a normal life because medicine will be there."
 


Richard Feachem
Since July 2002, Dr. Richard Feachem has been the executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The Global Fund coordinates a global effort between the public and private sectors to combat these three preventable diseases, which caused more than 6 million deaths in 2004 alone. Here he explains how the fund works and addresses criticisms that it has been to slow to move; that there is frustration and confusion on the ground in some countries where the Global Fund distributes generic drugs while President Bush's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) distributes brand-name drugs; that the Global Fund lacks a strong moral component; and that there is too much potential for corruption in the in-country distribution mechanisms. Feachem argues the world needs to understand the long-term promises it's making through the Global Fund: "We've now engaged in programs to finance very poor countries to do something that otherwise they would be quite unable to do financially, which is to put … several millions of people on drug therapy for life in a situation where, if that drug therapy were to be interrupted because the money wasn't there, the individuals would die rather quickly. We have never before between the rich nations and the poor nations entered into a long-term morally binding commitment of that kind."
 


Margaret Heckler
Margaret Heckler was President Reagan's secretary of health and human services from March 1983 to December 1985. Here she says AIDS was her number one priority, but that she had to balance her department's response against the Reagan administration's fiscal priorities. Heckler maintains that preexisting Public Health Service budgets were enough and that additional funding to fight AIDS was unnecessary. "I think that really, we could not have gained anything more by increasing the cash expenditures," she tells FRONTLINE. "We were in the right direction. We were placing the emphasis on those who could provide the answers. In a peculiar case, this was not a problem that money could solve; it was a problem that the scientists could solve." Heckler also addresses the infamous April 1984 press conference where she and virologist Robert Gallo announced his discovery of the AIDS virus. Heckler suggested a vaccine would be available within two years. "That turned out to be totally incorrect," she acknowledges. "But at that time, we did not know that the replication of the virus would be so difficult -- and it still is a problem. … That is the story of AIDS. There were new discoveries, lots of myths that we could easily dispel, but then very serious medical and scientific questions that had to be dealt with."
 


Richard Holbrooke
While serving as U.N. ambassador from 2000 to 2001, Richard Holbrooke helped redefine AIDS as a worldwide security issue, going so far as to arrange a January 2000 Security Council session, the first such session on a health issue. He is now the president and CEO of the Global Business Coalition, which coordinates the efforts of more than 200 companies in the global fight against AIDS. Here, Holbrooke talks about AIDS' economic impact and explains why testing is the key to effectively preventing the spread of HIV. He commends Botswana's national "opt-out" testing policy and suggests that nations automatically give HIV tests to pregnant women, soldiers, people applying for a marriage license and people admitted to hospitals. "You will never catch up with the spread of AIDS no matter how much money, no matter how many antiretrovirals are put into the system, unless you stop its growth," he says. "And the only way to stop its growth is prevention. And the only way to get prevention going is through a very aggressive system of getting people to test to [learn] their status, to get counseling and treatment. Yet testing is still voluntary. Testing is the least mentioned subject."
 


Landon Parvin
A speechwriter for President and Mrs. Reagan, Parvin wrote the president's first major speech on AIDS, which Reagan delivered in May 1987 at an amfAR dinner in Washington D.C. Here, he describes how Elizabeth Taylor, the actress and amfAR's founding national chairman, wrote a letter asking the president to attend and how Mrs. Reagan requested Parvin write the speech. "She thought that the first time the president really spoke about this that it should be something more moderate than perhaps would come out of the White House itself," he says. Parvin also recounts the internal White House battles over what exactly the president should say, and he tells FRONTLINE that before he started working on the speech, the president and then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had never spoken about AIDS before.
 


Peter Piot
The executive director of UNAIDS since its creation in 1995, Dr. Peter Piot saw some of the first known AIDS cases in Zaire in the late 1970s. He returned to Central Africa in 1983 to conduct some of the early studies of prevalence there. Under his leadership, UNAIDS has become the chief organizing force for worldwide action against AIDS. "When you think of it that in, let's say, 25 years roughly, about 70 million people have become infected with this virus, probably coming from one [person] at some point, its mind-blowing," he says. "… All these people are connected with each other by definition, because they had sex with each other; they shared needles; they got a blood transfusion from someone who got it, or their mother had it. That's it. There are no other ways of transmission." Here, Piot talks about why AIDS needs to be at the top of leaders' political agendas; why prevention programs have to involve both abstinence approaches and condoms; and the future of the epidemic in the so-called "next wave" countries -- especially Russia and Eastern Europe.
 


Jeffrey Sachs
Although he had worked in global development for years and followed news stories about the AIDS pandemic, economist Jeffrey Sachs didn't truly understand its magnitude until he arrived in Zambia in the mid-1990s and learned that eight of the 30 colleagues he would have worked with at the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank there had died of AIDS over the previous few years. He realized that the message the West was sending Africa -- a message of market reform and structural adjustment that he had helped develop for Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War -- did not take into account the underlying reality that "ill health is one of the most profound, pernicious poverty traps." During a 2000 speech at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, Sachs floated the idea of a global fund that would buy drugs at cost and provide them to the poorest people in the poorest countries for free. His idea eventually became the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, announced by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2001. Here, Sachs, author of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, describes the evolution of his thinking, his conversations with Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials, and his disappointment that instead of giving money to the Global Fund, the president decided to create his own $15 billion fund, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
 


Randall Tobias
Having spent his career in the corporate world, including six years as the chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company, Ambassador Randall Tobias had little personal experience with AIDS until 2003, when President George W. Bush asked him to be the first U.S. global AIDS coordinator, charged with distributing the $15 billion allocated to the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). He now calls AIDS "the greatest threat to the world today." Here he addresses the many criticisms of PEPFAR, including that it is too ideological; that it only targets 15 countries out of the many that need help; that the money should have been given to the Global Fund rather than a new funding mechanism; that it's too focused on abstinence; that restrictions against giving money to organizations helping sex workers are impractical; and that some of the organizations that have received money haven't been closely scrutinized. Tobias compares the President's Emergency Plan to a fire department putting out a fire: "This particular program was not intended to be the end game for addressing HIV/AIDS in the world, and clearly the United States government and governments around the world and the people in the host countries themselves all really need increasingly to come together around understanding on a country-by-country basis what has to be done for the longer term."
 

 

    Public Health Officials


Chris Beyrer
Dr. Chris Beyrer has spent his entire professional career, and much of his adult personal life, battling AIDS. As a medical student, he was at the forefront of treating Haitians in Brooklyn, while friends, and his lover, fell ill and died. Beyrer escaped infection -- for which he credits "absolutely religious" use of condoms -- and went on to help Thailand design and implement effective prevention programs, including one that showed "behavioral interventions" and condoms dramatically lowered infection rates in young Thai males. He is currently an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the director of the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program. Here he talks about how Thailand became a rare success story in combating the sexual spread of AIDS, although the country's epidemic among drug users still rages on. He also describes how Burma is central to Asia's AIDS epidemic and why he believes that to successfully fight AIDS, countries need to invest their own resources and not just rely on outside funding. Beyrer worries of ever truly getting ahead of the disease. "For those of us who have watched this happen, to have the same conversation in 2000 with the minister of health that you had in 1995 in another country, and in 1985 with the Reagan administration, is a kind of terribly painful déjà vu. You just always hope that somebody for once is going to say, 'We're going to implement a prevention program right now because we don't have an epidemic, and let's see if we can avoid one,'" he says.
 


Jim Curran
In 1981, Dr. Jim Curran was a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Sexually Transmitted Diseases division. Soon after the first reports of illness came in, he became chair of the CDC's working group on the disease that would come to be known as AIDS. Here he recounts the "shoe-leather epidemiology" that allowed public health officials to identify the new syndrome and ultimately the virus. Having spent 25 years fighting AIDS, Curran is saddened and angered at the "predictable" societal response when AIDS is identified in a population -- denial, discrimination and "compartmentalization and ghettoization." "The different thing about AIDS, compared to many other public health problems, is the centrality of the importance of the people and their ability to protect themselves, and the way society prevents them from doing that," he says. "When you realize that a society you live in or a community you live in is actually either actively or subconsciously hampering public health efforts, it becomes hard not to be enraged by that." Curran is now a professor of epidemiology and dean of Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health.
 


Don Francis
Dr. Don Francis was working as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control when the first reports of what would become known as AIDS came in. As part of the CDC's team of gumshoe epidemiologists who were tracking down the source of the epidemic, he suspected early on that a virus was the cause. He then led the fight to protect the U.S. blood supply, which he correctly suspected was already contaminated, and later left the CDC for the private sector, where he worked on a vaccine attempt that was ultimately unsuccessful. Francis is angry and highly critical of the Reagan administration; he tells FRONTLINE that the CDC's "mission was undermined by the election of relatively simple-minded authorities in the Reagan administration … saying lesser government is better government, and one of the lesser [ideas] was to throw public health to the wind, and especially throwing public health to the wind if it dealt with diseases that they didn't want to deal with politically." He describes an incident where soon after HIV was discovered, he drew up a prevention plan that included testing, counseling and HIV/AIDS education, but says the plan was rejected by officials in Washington who told the CDC, in Francis' words, "… we want you to look pretty and do as little as you can." He says the administration's instinct "to protect the politicians in Washington rather than the public's health" was "tragic, dangerous and set a precedent that is still reverberating around the world."
 


Joseph McCormick
In 1965, Dr. Joseph McCormick went to the Congo to teach math and science. Eighteen years later, McCormick -- who had by that point become one of the Center for Disease Control's "virus hunters" who investigate disease outbreaks around the world -- returned to the Congo to study an outbreak that was believed to be the same disease causing the mysterious immune deficiency among gay men in the Western world. His September 1983 trip changed the framework of how people thought about the disease that would become known as AIDS; McCormick and his team confirmed 38 cases in Kinshasa, but more importantly, found an equal male-female ratio among the patients, which suggested the disease was being spread through heterosexual sex. However, he says his conclusions were greeted with "total denial" upon his return to the U.S. "I believe that an earlier and more visionary understanding of this … could have made a huge difference in our approach, in how we determined that we were going to learn about this disease and, probably more importantly, how we were going to support the effort to prevent the disease," he tells FRONTLINE. Here, McCormick, now professor and assistant dean at the University of Texas Houston School of Public Health, details his first study and his return to Kinshasa in November 1983 to set up a long-term surveillance study. McCormick explains why believes AIDS likely originated in central Africa and probably made the cross-species leap into humans via the practice of hunting and eating primates.
 


Mervyn Silverman
Dr. Mervyn Silverman was director of San Francisco's Department of Public Health when the first AIDS cases were reported and later became director of American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). One of the most significant incidents during his tenure in San Francisco was his battle to close down the city's bathhouses -- a position the gay community vociferously opposed. Here he recounts those arguments and expands on his own position that the bathhouses were a unique public health hazard. He also talks about his contributions to Ronald Reagan's first public speech on AIDS, and his disappointment at the speech that Reagan ultimately delivered. Silverman calls AIDS "the most political disease" he's ever experienced, from restrictions on prevention and education pushed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in the '80s, to the funding of abstinence-only programs in the Bush administration's $15 billion AIDS program, to government denial in Africa and China. "Without question, politics has been one of the driving forces in the spread of this disease," he says.
 

 

    Researchers


David Baltimore
In 1975 Dr. David Baltimore shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of the reverse transcriptase enzyme, which allows a retrovirus to convert its genetic information from RNA to DNA inside a healthy cell. Here, Baltimore, who was the first chair of the National Institutes of Health's AIDS Vaccine Research Committee, and who will end his term as president of California Institute of Technology in June 2006 in order to pursue AIDS research, talks about his discovery and why he was surprised to learn a retrovirus was the cause of AIDS. He also talks about the state of AIDS vaccine research -- why HIV has proved such an elusive target and his unique vaccine approach using genetic therapy to instruct, rather than elicit, an immune system response. "The problem is that HIV is insidious and that it has protected itself against almost everything that we can think of doing, so we need to think of new things to do," he says. "That's been the block, is to think of new things to do."
 


Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci has led research on AIDS since the early 1980s. As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), he pioneered AIDS treatment protocols and he has become a highly respected adviser to the federal government on AIDS. Here, he recounts how visiting patients in Uganda, who weren't getting access to expensive antiretroviral drugs, triggered in him "an absolute resolve that this is just something that as human beings we can't accept." Fauci went on to help shape President George W. Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which will distribute $15 billion to 15 countries over five years for treatment and prevention. He also talks about his complicated relationship with gay activists over the years; from being booed while advocating safe sex to developing relationships with gay activists during the 1990s that "transformed" the drug approval process.
 


Margaret Fischl
As a young physician working in South Florida during the early 1980s, Dr. Margaret Fischl struggled to find the source of mysterious immune problems among her male and female heterosexual patients of Haitian ancestry. When she read the initial reports of similar immune problems in gay men in California, she called the CDC to report her cases, but she says they didn't accept her conclusions because her patients didn't fit the profile of the mysterious disease being transmitted through homosexual sex or drug use. Eventually, the CDC named Haitian ancestry as a separate risk factor for AIDS -- stigmatizing and angering Haitians in the U.S. and abroad. Here, she recounts those events, and her trips to Haiti to investigate the disease there. Later, Fischl was one of the first researchers to discover the cancer drug AZT's effectiveness in treating AIDS patients. She describes those clinical trials and the criticism she faced from activists as doctors and patients learned more about the drug's toxic side effects.
 


David Ho
In 1994, Dr. David Ho discovered that what was then thought of as a latency phase -- when a person was infected with HIV but not experiencing any symptoms -- was in fact a period of continuous onslaught, in which the virus and the immune system are engaged in a pitched battle. Once he was able to measure the amount of virus in the blood, he learned that in fact billions of HIV particles were being produced every day. This breakthrough allowed Ho and his collaborators to come up with the idea for combination therapy -- treating a person with several drugs at once to suppress the virus down to undetectable levels. Patients near death rebounded dramatically after beginning what was called "triple cocktail" therapy, and Ho was named Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1996 for his work. In this wide-ranging interview, Ho recounts his breakthrough discoveries and his battles against the virus over the years. He also talks about the implications of combination therapy on the future of the epidemic and the importance of prevention efforts. "We have to bear in mind that during the years where this concerted treatment effort took place, approximately 2 million were treated. But during those years, another 15 million or so got newly infected." Currently Ho is executive director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, where he is working on potential vaccine approaches, which he also discusses here.
 

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posted may 30, 2006

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