July 27, 2012
Diane V. Havlir, M.D., knew she wanted to help stamp out the AIDS epidemic when she was getting her medical training in San Francisco just as the HIV epidemic hit the city in the 1980s.
Now, as the chief of the HIV/AIDS division and Positive Health Program at San Francisco General Hospital -- and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco -- she is in the perfect position to do so.
As we close out the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., Dr. Havlir -- who has been the convention's co-chairwoman -- hopes the event has helped the public recognize that doctors aren't the only ones who can save lives.
"We're calling on everyone to join the movement to end AIDS," says Dr. Havlir, who has worked as a researcher and clinician in the HIV epidemic for over 20 years and is pleased that the conference has returned to the U.S., creating the opportunity to spotlight the U.S. and Washington epidemics.
"It's a point of optimism in terms of defiance," she says. "We've had three years of breakthroughs in terms of prevention. We're talking about a cure for HIV and the search is active and growing in that area."
As one of the leading AIDS doctors, Dr. Havlir should know: She currently directs several antiretroviral trials evaluating novel strategies for the treatment of HIV and co-infections, including tuberculosis and malaria.
"The most important thing to me about being the chair of this conference is that we, for the first time ever, are talking about the beginning of the end of AIDS -- the worst epidemic that we've had since the black plague," she says. "It affects men; it affects women. It is just a huge responsibility but thrilling to be in the position that we're in right now."
Dr. Havlir's work around HIV/AIDS recently had her working as a member of a research team that spearheaded a groundbreaking 10-year study on the Causes of Death Among HIV Patients in San Francisco.
"One of the things about HIV disease is that HIV affects other organs in the body including the heart, the liver and the kidneys," she explained of the study, whose findings were released this year. "What that study showed was that individuals that are living with HIV disease are susceptible to sudden cardiac death at a higher proportion than the general population," she adds. "We don't know the reason why. The most important part of this study is that it reminds us that HIV patients are living long and healthy lives and in order to keep them healthy we have to practice good cardiac health, which includes offering services the same for HIV-infected and non-infected patients," she says.
Dr. Havlir -- who was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation and is a member of the World Health Organization HIV Treatment Guidelines Committee -- believes that people must insist that the government provide the resources necessary to end the epidemic.
"I think that we need to get a renewed commitment from the community on the HIV response, which includes financial and leadership commitments to the global response to HIV," she explains. "This is going to call for continued participation of major donors but also new donors from affected countries and from emerging economies. The conference brings together the community -- the scientists and the policy-makers. Every single person participating in the meeting has something to contribute to the AIDS movement and it's going to be absolutely critical to ending the AIDS movement."
Tomika Anderson is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has appeared in Essence, POZ, Real Health and Ebony magazines, among others.