Health & Wellness Society & Culture

Early leaders in AIDS battle will share history, insights at UGA College of Public Health panel

Athens, Ga. – Four of Georgia’s early influential leaders on HIV/AIDS issues will share their experiences during a panel discussion Thursday, Nov. 18, at 5:30 p.m. in the University of Georgia Paul D. Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Jim Martin, Sandra Thurman, Bruce Garner and Nancy Paris will discuss the impact and effects of the virus’ first outbreak in Atlanta and how the community responded. The discussion, which will be moderated by Phillip Williams, dean of UGA’s College of Public Health, will allow panelists to share their stories and the work done by the organizers of the AIDS Legacy Project.

“How Georgia was able to face the AIDS epidemic in the early years is an important part of our history,” said Martin, who, as a state legislator, helped secure some of the first public funding in the fight against the disease. “It is worth retelling the story of how issues associated with this epidemic-including sexual orientation, drug abuse, prejudice andpublic health-were effectively addressed by community leaders with courage, vision and compassion.”

Martin, Garner, Thurman and Paris were heavily involved in efforts to bring awareness to those suffering from the disease. Garner, an AIDS survivor, was instrumental in encouraging the faith community in Atlanta to become involved, while Thurman, who served as ‘AIDS Czar’ under President Bill Clinton, worked as a volunteer with AID Atlanta in the 1980s before eventually serving as its executive director.

Paris, the CEO of the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education, was a leader on the board of directors of AID Atlanta in the mid-1980s.

Gathering together for the first time to collectively share their stories, the panelists will share not only their stories, but also present their vision for the future in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The first documented cases of AIDS in Atlanta were diagnosed in the early 1980s. At its onset, the disease primarily afflicted gay men and hemophilia patients with a host of mysterious and seemingly unrelated symptoms.

More than 30 years after the onset of the epidemic, there are fewer individuals left to tell the story of the early days of the outbreak in Atlanta. Many of those leaders who were infected with the virus are now in their 50s and 60s and battling chronic health and aging issues complicated by AIDS. As these individuals die, there is a concern among the project’s organizers that many of their personal stories could be lost.

The AIDS Legacy Project is an attempt to capture oral and written histories from the community leaders who spearheaded the initial response to the HIV/AIDS outbreak. It began by building an archive-created from a series of interviews with those who established initial systems of care for those battling the virus-to ensure these stories would not be forgotten.

The history chronicles the first response to the outbreak, which was largely driven by the gay community in Atlanta.It traces the founding of AID Atlanta, the first volunteer organization equipped to provide the support and care the disease required, and culminates with the passage of the Ryan White Act, which signaled the official entry of the federal government into the crisis.

The UGA College of Public Health has placed an emphasis on research and awareness for HIV/AIDS. Christopher Whalen, a professor of epidemiology, manages a grant program that focuses on prevention and treatment of HIV and the management of HIV-associated tuberculosis. Su-I Hou, an associate professor in health promotion and behavior, oversees an HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Needs Assessment for Northeast Georgia.

“The College of Public Health is committed to increasing awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on our communities and providing a forum for education regarding the prevention and response to infectious diseases,” said Williams.

Founded in 2005 as a response to the state’s need to address important health concerns in Georgia, the UGA College of Public Health is comprised of four departments and two research institutes, as well the Center for Global Health. The college offers degree programs in biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health promotion and behavior, public health, health policy and management, and toxicology and a certificate program in gerontology.

Graduates from the UGA College of Public Health-which is nationally known for its work related to infectious disease, cancer research, gerontology, disaster preparedness and other areas-typically go on to a diverse range of careers, including medicine, health education, emergency management, public health policy, environmental science and social work. For further information about the college, see