25 years leading the fight against AIDS

Harvard Aids Initiative 25th anniversary video

This year, Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative (HAI) celebrates its 25th anniversary. To learn about its major accomplishments, and about the work that remains to be done, watch the short but powerful video below.

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report summarizing the first five reported cases of the mysterious and horrifying illness that would come to be known as AIDS. “Early on it became clear that AIDS was not merely another disease in the long history of human afflictions,” said Deeda Blair, co-chair of the HSPH AIDS Initiative’s International Advisory Committee.

From the start, Harvard School of Public Health understood the singular nature of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and helped lead a counterassault against it.  Among the School’s accomplishments:

  • Determining that HIV could be transmitted via blood and blood products, a finding that made it possible to prevent the spread of AIDS through the blood supply through effective screening
  • Discovering a second, less transmissible and less deadly AIDS virus, HIV-2, which causes most HIV/AIDS infections in West Africa
  • Being among the first to suggest that AIDS could be a retrovirus-caused disease

Since 1988, HAI (then called the Harvard AIDS Institute) has been in the forefront of global efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. “I wanted Harvard to declare a clear and compelling commitment to coping with the AIDS epidemic,” recalls former HSPH Dean Harvey Fineberg, who joined forces with University President Derek Bok to launch HAI.

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Is there an event, person, or discovery in Harvard School of Public Health history that you’d like to read about? Send your suggestions to centennial@hsph.harvard.edu.

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