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The AIDS Fight: Present and Future

Chris Beyrer

Epidemiology professor Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH ’91, has added two new jobs to his already-crammed portfolio: president-elect of the International AIDS Society (IAS) and co-principal investigator for the new Johns Hopkins Center for AIDS Research (CFAR). After July’s IAS-sponsored AIDS conference in Washington D.C., Beyrer spoke with Johns Hopkins Public Health editor Brian W. Simpson.

How do you measure the success of the international AIDS conference?

First, we look at the competitiveness of the science: over 12,000 abstract submissions and our lowest-ever acceptance rate for oral presentations—under 4 percent. Second, we were trying to bring together all of the science and implementation data to say we could begin to turn this thing around. That messaging was strong, it was consistent and it was galvanizing. Third, from a U.S. perspective, what we most cared about was reaffirming bipartisan support for both the domestic and global HIV effort. By that measure, we also were very successful.

Some people argue that the money expended on these conferences would be better spent on antiretrovrial drugs or condoms.

That is a very real argument. We don’t think we’ll have another conference this large. With social media and the Web, we feel we can have an ever-expanding audience for the science without necessarily having everybody physically together. That said, AIDS is unique in being a truly global pandemic. It is unique in requiring responses across sectors. We need the politicians, the researchers, people from the infected communities ... . As a global movement, we need to come together and come to consensus on what the goals are.

What will be your priorities when you lead IAS, starting in 2014?

My thinking is evolving. Certainly what our work has really been known for is highlighting the key populations most affected by HIV and their unmet needs for prevention, treatment and care. I think that very much will be a theme that I will bring to this.

How is CFAR going to change AIDS research at Hopkins?

It’s already starting to have an impact. We’re going to make the first round of developmental awards this year … to support junior investigators with new ideas and hopefully bring some more senior investigators new to HIV into the field. We have been asked to take the lead in the CFAR African research network. [Africa is] obviously the center of the pandemic. It’s also a critical place for the next phases of research. [And] one of our aims is address-ing the epidemic in Baltimore.  We have already formed a community participatory board. We really want the community to be a partner.

What’s your leadership style?

If you stay really focused on the science, on the public health issues, the human rights issues, on the real concerns of real people, then other people are happy to participate. And you create a space where junior people feel they’re a part of something that really matters. Then they work enormously hard, and you build a team that can punch above its weight.

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