AIDS more than a virus? Global health expert Peter Piot will discuss what drives epidemic during March 11 visit

- By Ruthann Richter

Peter Piot

Peter Piot

AIDS is not just a virus but also a social, economic and political force to be reckoned with. Peter Piot, MD, PhD, one of the world's leading AIDS experts, has long recognized that science alone cannot bring an end to the epidemic.

Why AIDS is 'More than a Virus' is the subject of a special event March 11 featuring Piot, former director of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, at the School of Medicine.

The program is the second in a new series, the Stanford Health Policy Forum. Piot will be interviewed by Paul Costello, executive director of the school's Office of Communication and Public Affairs.

'Dr. Piot is a thoughtful, experienced and humane policymaker - exactly the kind of speaker we hoped to attract when we started the policy forum series,' said Keith Humphreys, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and an organizer of the forum.

A native of Belgium, Piot is a physician and microbiologist who co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire in 1976. He was among the first scientists to foresee the AIDS crisis when he visited Zaire in the 1980s and saw hundreds of ailing men and women - the first indication that this then-mysterious disease was transmitted heterosexually, as well as homosexually.

Since then, Piot has established a series of programs in Africa that laid the foundation for understanding HIV infection on the continent. He became director of UNAIDS in 1995, encouraging world leaders to view AIDS in the context of social and economic development, as well as a threat to global security. He stepped down from the U.N. job in 2008. He is now a top adviser on global health strategy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

'Peter Piot's leadership at UNAIDS has been characterized by his deep understanding of the science as well as the social, political and human-rights issues that are central to HIV/AIDS policy,' said Douglas Owens, MD, professor of medicine and of health research and policy who studies AIDS. 'He's made enormous contributions, and we have much to learn from him.' Humphreys and Owens are also investigators at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System

The program will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Clark Center auditorium. Piot will be interviewed for the first half of the program, followed by questions from the audience. Humphreys will serve as moderator, together with Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the medical school.

The program is free and open to the public, though space is limited and a reservation is required. To request a seat, visit online or call the ticket office at 725-2787. The health policy forum is sponsored by the Dean's Office in the medical school.

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