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If you like David Ho's story, you might also like:
Paul Farmer,
John Gearhart,
Jeong Kim,
Antonia Novello,
Jonas Salk and
Bert Vogelstein

David Ho also appears in the video:
Frontiers of Medicine

Related Links:
Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center

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David Ho
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David Ho Interview (page: 6 / 6)

AIDS Research Pioneer

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  David Ho

You entered a large controversy surrounding AIDS experiments in Africa. You resigned from the Board of the New England Journal of Medicine, didn't you?

David Ho: Right. There's an experiment being done in several developing countries, in Africa and Thailand for example, where pregnant infected women are given AZT or a placebo. In the US we've already shown that AZT is superior to a placebo in reducing the chance of infection being transmitted to the newborn. The AZT regimen that's used in the U.S. is extremely complicated, protracted and costly. It's almost completely out of the question for use in developing countries. The new studies in Africa compare shorter courses of AZT to a placebo. Many have said the use of a placebo is inappropriate, and that it's akin to the tragedy that occurred with the Tuskeegee experiment, where southern blacks were denied effective syphilis therapy.

Because they wanted to see how the disease would progress?

David Ho: Right. But this is an inappropriate comparison in my view. In Africa the standard of care is nothing. People are trying desperately to come up with measures that would be applicable in real life in Africa and other developing countries. These studies were done after extensive discussion among the scientists, the doctors, the clergyman, government officials from the U.S. and the respective countries, and with the population at risk. It's completely open. So the comparison with Tuskeegee is simply not appropriate. If you insist that Africans do what we do here, it won't be feasible.

If you insist on the infeasible, you'll get into a situation where nothing is done. And, the most important thing we could do now is to come up with strategies that would decrease mother-to-infant transmission of HIV. So I got involved with that controversy because the New England Journal took a very strong ethical position against any use of placebo and basically did not welcome my opposing view and I had to express my view in Time Magazine. And they didn't care for that, and therefore because of this disagreement, I said I had to go with my own beliefs and I don't think I could serve the Journal well by remaining on its editorial board.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

It sounds like this an uncomfortable situation. You must have felt very strongly about this.

David Ho: You have to go with your beliefs. One can't be hypocritical about it. And, I think I wanted to send a strong message to the Journal that it's much more complicated than what we have discussed so far. I mean, if the Journal had a particular view, the best approach is to talk to the people involved, to have a dialogue with the U.S. scientists, with the African scientists and with the subjects that are enrolling and get a true understanding at the grass root level, rather than pontificate from the ivory tower of Harvard University or, you know, the New England Journal. I think that kind of approach is not appropriate.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

How did your association with the Aaron Diamond Center begin?

David Ho: The Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center was put together by people in New York. The philanthropist Irene Diamond provided the funds to get it going, and the institute is named for her husband. Some of the city officials as well as Irene Diamond's advisors came up with the idea of concentrating their money and effort on an institute that would be devoted to AIDS research. I agreed with the idea and was recruited to direct the Center. I really appreciate the fact that I was given that opportunity.

Do you believe you had opportunities in America that you would not have had somewhere else?

David Ho: I've lived the American dream so far.

Only in America would a 37 year-old be given that opportunity to become an institute director. I think the culture overall here is enlightened enough to be able to give responsibility to a young person without that much regard for age and with greater emphasis on merit, on potential, and such things. It's in many ways an amazing experience. I've done well. I was working hard. I had a certain vision of what I wanted to do and those things fitted well with the goals of the new institute. So, I was given the chance and I believe I've taken advantage of that golden opportunity.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

I had the same conversation with John Shalikashvili. Only in America would a foreign born person be made Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as he was, or Secretary of State like Madeleine Albright, who's also foreign born. I think it's fantastic. This would not happen in China, Taiwan, Japan or many of the European countries. I'm truly grateful to be here, and to my father in particular for putting in that tremendous effort during those early, difficult years. This is a very enlightened country.

Just coming back to my own area, AIDS, it's now a problem largely of developing countries. A vaccine would probably have not made that much of a difference to the United States, but yet the vaccine research for AIDS is almost entirely funded by U.S. money. So it's taken the broader view, that this is a problem for the world and therefore we're going to solve it. And, this is not limited to AIDS. Malaria is not much of a problem, yet we're taking it on, same with tuberculosis and so on and so forth. The past few years, as I had more and more chance to reflect upon my career so far and my life so far, I've come to appreciate much more of what this country is.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

When I speak to students now, I try to emphasize some of these points. This a very special place, and in my view, truly a land of opportunities.

Thank you so much.

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This page last revised on Feb 29, 2008 12:37 EDT