The Politics Surrounding the AIDS Epidemic Outlined by One of the World's Foremost AIDS Authorities

September 30, 1996

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 -
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 -

Who better to distinguish the faces of AIDS in the public health sector from the faces of the epidemic in the political arena than the person who until recently held one of the U.S. government's highest positions specifically devoted to AIDS?

James W. Curran, M.D., now dean of the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University will discuss AIDS: Paradigm for Public Health or Political Exception? Tuesday, Nov. 12 p.m. at Emory University's Cannon Chapel, 515 Kilgo Circle, Atlanta. The free lecture is part of the Emory University Great Teachers Lecture Series open to the public and will begin at 7 p.m., one half hour earlier than other lectures in the series. Call 404/727-6216.

"What is particularly harmful to public health is when the strictly partisan aspects of politics invade public health issues," Dr. Curran says.

"Public health practitioners and leaders should be looking at the most important threats to health in a society and what might be done to avert those threats. And we should do that in a politically blind fashion.... It is naive, however, to think that you can stay away from politics in public health."

Dr. Curran has been involved with the epidemic since long before AIDS became political, even before the strange condition first noticed as affecting young gay men had a name. While chief of the research branch of sexually transmitted diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he was asked to review in 1981 information about five men with a rare type of pneumonia associated with immune deficiency. They were the first known AIDS cases. And he still remembers meeting a young actor suffering from an unusual form of cancer -- and in whom the association between Kaposi's sarcoma and AIDS was first made.

From 1981-82 Dr. Curran coordinated the Task Force on Kaposi's Sarcoma and Acquired Immune Deficiency. His rise through the CDC ranks reflected the growing impact of AIDS and his growing expertise in how to track the disease and attempt to staunch its spread. He became chief of the AIDS Branch in 1984, director of the AIDS Program in 1985, director of the Division of HIV/AIDS in 1989 and assistant surgeon general of the United States in 1991.

Raised in Detroit, Mich., Dr. Curran received a bachelor's from the University of Notre Dame, a medical degree from the University of Michigan and a master's of public health from Harvard University School of Public Health while completing a general preventive medicine residency and fellowship at the Harvard Center for Community Health and Medical Care.

Dr. Curran continues as advisor to the Combined United Nations Programme on AIDS, member of the board of the National AIDS Fund and advisor to the National Institutes of Health on HIV. Locally he serves on the board of Jerusalem House. He has published more than 220 scholarly papers.

"Your leadership in the area of HIV and AIDS prevention strengthened our global response to this epidemic and served as a calm voice of scientific reason during some difficult times," said President Bill Clinton in a 1995 letter to Dr. Curran acknowledging his move to Emory.

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Copyright ©Emory University, 1996. All Rights Reserved.
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