Research to end the AIDS epidemic goes on all day (and many nights) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. To mark World AIDS Day 2016, we bring you a sampling of the important work being done around the world by our scientists, clinicians, students and staff.
World AIDS Day Symposium
Thursday, December 1, 2016
8:00 – 9:30 am • Coffee & Breakfast Provided
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health • Kresge G2
In 2015, experts were caught off guard when an HIV epidemic exploded in a rural Indiana town. Prescription painkillers were being ground up and injected, often with shared needles, an easy route for HIV transmission.
The U.S. is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,379 people died of an overdose in Massachusetts last year. The threat of another HIV outbreak among injection drug users looms, not only in the U.S., but around the world. The symposium will address the current opioid crisis and ways to limit or prevent future HIV outbreaks.
Her life has been anything but linear. Born in Beijing, Amy Wu grew up in Oregon, performed as a concert pianist in her teens, majored in biochemistry at Harvard, conducted HIV research in China and Botswana, and now works 80-hour weeks as a vice president at a tech startup. She also serves on HAI’s International Advisory Council.
Martha Henry, Executive Director of HAI, reached Amy by phone in a conference room in Manhattan.
You were one of the first Harvard undergrads to spend a semester in Botswana conducting HIV research. Almost ten years later, how do you view that experience?
“Good science requires good record keeping.”¹
The laboratory notebook has changed little over hundreds of years. Part journal, part scrapbook, it is a record of both what a researcher thinks and what she does. It documents her day-to-day hypotheses, experiments, observations, analyses, and conclusions. Think of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of a flying machine or Darwin’s detailed field notes from his voyage on the Beagle. In today’s modern laboratories, researchers use the same kind of bound paper notebook to document their work.
The 1876 notebook of Alexander Graham Bell, who patented the first practical telephone.
Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Bond is a Social Anthropologist and Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Based in Zambia, she heads the social science unit at Zambart. She is the lead social scientist for PopART (Population Effects of Antiretroviral Therapy to Reduce HIV Transmission) a large community-randomized trial being carried out in 21 communities in South Africa and Zambia. The trial is designed to evaluate the impact of a universal test-and-treat intervention on population-level HIV incidence. Similar to HAI’s Botswana Combination Prevention Project, the goal of PopART is to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections.
Martha Henry, Executive Director of HAI, spoke over Skype with Dr. Bond in Zambia.
Wei-Kung Wang’s Work on Flaviviruses
Timing is everything. Dr. Wei-Kung Wang returned to Harvard in early March, just as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Susan Butler Plum is the founding director of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, which every year awards two-year grants to 25 public-interest attorneys. She also serves on a number of boards, including HAI’s International Advisory Council. She recently spoke by phone with Martha Henry, HAI’s Executive Director.
When people ask what your job is, how do you reply?
I say that I’m the founder and director of a foundation that makes grants for young lawyers to work with the poor. Most of our applications come from the best law schools in America. Probably 45 to 50 applications a year come from the top of the class at Harvard Law School. Continue reading
Marni von Wilpert’s Uncommon Path
After graduating from Berkeley in 2005, Marni von Wilpert left California to serve as a social worker in the Peace Corps. She was sent to Mokubilo, a rural village in eastern Botswana. There, she provided services for babies born with HIV and children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS. She also helped with education, treatment, and care for HIV-positive adults.
“I witnessed a lot of discrimination in my village,” said von Wilpert. “Kids were kicked out of the one primary school in the village and told they couldn’t come back because they were showing signs of HIV infection. A lot of women were divorced by their husbands because women were often the ones to test first since they’re the ones to get pregnant. There was only so much I could do as a social worker. I became convinced that legal assistance could make a meaningful difference in the lives of people who faced discrimination. From my village in Botswana, I applied to law school.”
The AIDS epidemic has had a devastating impact on child survival in sub-Saharan Africa. In Botswana, under-five mortality almost doubled from 1990 to 2000. Since then, remarkable progress has been made to prevent pregnant HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus to their infants, either in utero or through breastfeeding. Yet in a study published this July in BMC Pediatrics, Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI) researchers found that HIV-exposed or infected children in Botswana account for more than half of deaths in children younger than two. Continue reading
For almost 30 years, Dr. Richard Marlink helped shape the work of the Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI). As he leaves to create and lead the Rutgers Global Health Institute, we—his colleagues at HAI— created a short video to express our appreciation of his work and gratitude for his friendship.