UW Today

This is an archived article.

February 19, 2009

Global health ‘hero’ Dr. Peter Piot at UW March 2

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Dr. Peter Piot, one of the world’s leading global health heroes — as co-discoverer of the Ebola virus and founding executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS — will be speaking on campus at 5:30 p.m., Monday, March 2 in Foege Auditorium.

His talk, “The Transformational Nature of the AIDS Response: Opportunities for Global Health,” is part of the Washington Global Health Alliance Discovery Series.

Piot credits UW’s Dr. King Holmes, the chair of the Department of Global Health, with launching his career. Piot was a senior fellow at the University of Washington in the 1970s where he studied infectious diseases with Holmes, a world-renowned infectious disease expert.

In 1976, Piot, was one of the leaders of the medical teams that first identified the deadly Ebola virus during an outbreak in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). In the 1980s, he co-launched and expanded a series of HIV/AIDS collaborative projects in Africa (Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania, Côite d’Ivoire and Burundi.) Project SIDA in Zaire is considered the first international project on AIDS in Africa and is widely acknowledged as having provided the first understanding of HIV infection in Africa.

In 1992, the Belgium native joined the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Programme on AIDS as associate director.

In 1995, Piot helped found UNAIDS, where his strong political, organizing and advocacy skills became legendary. As the UNAIDS executive director, Piot directed the delicate creation of a new organization separate from the WHO and other UN agencies to coordinate the international response to a disease, which still causes more than 6,800 new infections and over 5,700 deaths each day.

In 2008, Piot stepped down from UNAIDS, but his 13-year legacy lives on. Piot became one of the first to advocate for bringing expensive anti-AIDS drugs to Africa and UNAIDS focused much of its effort on building delivery systems for AIDS drugs. Under his leadership, UNAIDS became the chief advocate for worldwide action against AIDS and spearheaded UN reform by bringing together 10 UN system organizations.

“Piot is a hero,” said Holmes.

Holmes said Piot has been extremely effective in diplomacy and teambuilding and making HIV/AIDS a disease that is much less stigmatized.

“He has a great ability to combine his technical expertise with a genuine care for human rights and concern and understanding for populations of developing countries,” he said.

Piot is now working in Seattle as a top health adviser to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That short appointment will end in May when he will start a global health program at Imperial College in London.

In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Jan. 15, Piot said he will help the Gates Foundation figure how to take the next crucial steps in advancing global health.

“They can’t do everything so they need to be smart with their investments,” he told the paper. “There are many critics who clamor for more money from Gates for ‘health systems strengthening,’ he said, but it’s not always clear what needs to be done or if it is really a health care system problem.”

For more global health events, go to the Global Health Calendar of Events.