My career in medicine began just as the HIV epidemic was unfolding. I have seen
it progress from a time when the virus was not yet identified, through an era of stigmatization and then the introduction of the first medications to counter the infection. I saw firsthand how improved treatment, called HAART therapy (highly active antiretroviral therapy), transformed the way we viewed HIV – from an immediate death sentence to a chronic disease that can be managed for years.
Out of that paradigm shift, new hope and optimism were born. Unfortunately, a growing complacency also emerged. While the death rate from AIDS has fallen in the U.S., many in our local and global community still suffer greatly from this disease. The therapeutic approaches used in our country are not equally accessible to all, and indeed may not be financially or culturally feasible for the rest of the global community.
Now, more than ever, we need to address the increasing disparity in this disease. We need to educate the public, guide policymaking, conduct research and advocate for social responsibility.
For me, complacency is not an option. I remember that, as a young infectious-disease doctor, I helped to care for a young man dying of AIDS. He was alone. His family had rejected him out of the fear and ignorance pervasive at that time. The hospital staff was reluctant to go into his room. As he lay dying, all he wanted was a bath. For him, a bath meant being able to die with some dignity, and until I intervened, his request had gone unanswered.
His heart-breaking gratitude when that last wish was met is what drives me even today to work to increase awareness and understanding of this disease and to find more compassionate ways to deal with those who are not only infected with the virus but also affected by the discrimination they face.
As huge a threat as HIV is, other diseases will certainly emerge to challenge our world. Fortunately, the lessons we've learned in taming HIV can be applied to other diseases, such as hepatitis C, or MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), or possibly a new virus or other pathogen yet to be discovered.
At UC Davis, we are applying lessons learned from AIDS. For instance, our infectious-disease experts are working with our hepatologists, using their knowledge of the HIV epidemic, to address the growing incidence of hepatitis C. You can read more about this initiative in this issue. It is one of several stories that showcase our efforts in curing and preventing infectious diseases.
Also featured is our leading-edge work in HIV mucosal immunity and disparities in AIDS care, investigations into malaria and innate immunity, advocacy efforts to increase childhood vaccinations and work in Eastern Europe to help redirect bioweaponry-lab research toward new treatments and cures for some of the most dangerous infectious diseases.
These efforts and those of fellow researchers in the School of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences place UC Davis at the forefront of confronting some of the most difficult and persistent infectious diseases that exist today or may emerge in the future. With your support, and the help of our community, we can improve the lives of our neighbors – next door and around the world.