Anthony Fauci: Bringing Science-Based Responses to Infectious Disease Threats — from HIV to Ebola
Most likely you’ve seen his reassuring face in the national media recently, calmly yet decisively advising the public on the Ebola infection threat gripping parts of West Africa and that has since occurred in isolated cases in the United States.
Yet for Anthony Stephen Fauci, M.D., such high-profile duties are part of his job as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) where he oversees an extensive research portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria, and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism.
In his post, he not only serves as a key advisor to the White House and other areas of the U.S. government on these disease threats, he also heads initiatives to bolster medical and public health preparedness against such infections. Currently he is on the front lines against Ebola, threat, including helping to spearhead the government-wide response to address the disease in the U.S. and West Africa, and disseminating sound, accurate scientifically-based information to the public on the disease.
“We often get asked how we are going to address the potential of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. and what the likelihood of an outbreak here is,” says Tony, an immunologist and scientist by training. “The reason that you continually hear that an outbreak is extremely unlikely in this country is because of the quality of our health care system in identifying and treating it, and because we know how the disease is spread.”
He adds: “We know that Ebola spreads from direct contact with the bodily fluids of an ill patient. A patient who is without symptoms, a patient who is well but has early infection, does not spread Ebola.
“So if a patient comes in who has Ebola and in fact does expose other people, we historically know from years dating back to 1976 in all the outbreaks in Africa in which the Centers for Disease Control and other health authorities have been involved, that when you do contact tracing of anyone who came into contact with someone after they have been manifesting symptoms, get those people, isolate them and keep them out of contact with others until you prove that they are or are not infected with Ebola.”
Tony’s contributions to the treatment and understanding of infectious and immune-mediated illnesses as a physician, scientist, administrator, educator and humanitarian are well-known, and his achievements recently earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest award given to a civilian.
But despite his lofty accomplishments, he still considers himself a regular guy from a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, where as a young boy he loved to play basketball, but also developed the desire to alleviate suffering and serve the public through medicine.
“I believe I have a personal responsibility to make a positive impact on society and chose to do this by becoming a public servant,” says Tony, who as a boy used to deliver prescriptions on his bike from his father’s pharmacy. “I consider my job a gift which allows me to alleviate human suffering.”
He was one of the first in science and medicine to recognize the HIV/AIDS outbreak as a potential health crisis when the malady came to the world’s attention in 1981. “When I chose to focus on the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, many of my colleagues thought I was misguided,” says Tony. ”But I felt I was destined to become involved. I knew deep down that this disease was to be a public health catastrophe. Failure to contain this disease is not an option.”
For almost 30 years, Tony has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how HIV destroys the body’s defenses, leading to its susceptibility to deadly infections. Furthermore, he has been instrumental in developing highly effective strategies to treat patients with this disease, approaches that have resulted in millions of years of life saved around the world.
Focused and driven even as a young boy, he went on to attend the College of the Holy Cross, where his focus on classics, philosophy and pre-med courses started him on his career path. Subsequently, he received his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College. He then completed his internship and residency at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.
He is guided through life and his work by a simple yet profound “global citizen” philosophy. “The world is a place that is so interconnected that what happens in another part of the world will impact us,” says Tony. “We have a moral responsibility for humanitarian considerations when other citizens of the world are suffering and dying … we have the moral responsibility to try to help those who are less fortunate.”
For more information, http://www.niaid.nih.gov/about/directors/Pages/default.aspx