Dr. Chris Beyrer ’81, epidemiologist and professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was interviewed on PBS News Hour Weekend on the 40th anniversary of the first documented cases of HIV/AIDS.
An epidemiologist who has been on the frontlines of COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS, Dr. Chris Beyrer ’81 discussed the uneven parallels between the pandemics, and where attention and investment is needed to contain their spread.
On the PBS News Hour Weekend segment, “40 years on, HIV/AIDS is still spreading despite medical advancement,” Beyrer reflected on the emergence of the virus in the 1990s when, as young medical resident and out gay man, he saw colleagues, patients and loved ones succumb to AIDS, including his partner at the time. In the PBS interview, Beyrer discussed the advances in technology since then that have led to therapeutics and the COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the problems that arise when “we’ve invested so much more in our biomedical research infrastructure, which delivered these vaccines, than we have in our public health infrastructure, which is really meant to implement them and provide them.”
Beyrer is a professor of medicine and the inaugural Desmond M. Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is the founding director of the school’s Center for Public Health and Human Rights and serves as associate director of the university’s Center for Global Health and Center for AIDS Research. His areas of expertise include HIV/AIDS preventive interventions, including HIV vaccine clinical trials and preparedness studies, as well as HIV epidemiology and molecular epidemiology, substance use and narcotics research, and public health and human rights.
A past president of the International AIDS Society, the world’s largest body of HIV professionals, Beyrer has testified before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives regarding HIV/AIDS and human rights, and has served on the Scientific Advisory Board for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief for the Obama Administration. He has also advised organizations including the National Institutes of Health, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the Open Society Foundations and many others. In 2016, he served as chair of the biennial International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa.
At HWS, Beyrer majored in history, graduated cum laude and was elected Phi Beta Kappa. After spending time abroad in Sri Lanka, he returned to the United States and graduated from medical school at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he first encountered AIDS among the large Haitian population as well as the city’s gay population.
He later earned a Master of Public Health at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and conducted public health research and fieldwork, particularly in Thailand and Southeast Asia. From 1992 to 1996, he served as field director of the Thai PAVE and HIVNET studies based in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. Beyrer has also conducted extensive research in the epidemiology of HIV in Thailand, Myanmar, China, India and across Southeast Asia; in Russia and Kazakhstan, in Malawi, South Africa, and the U.S.
In 2013, he became the 36th recipient of the Medal of Excellence, Hobart College Alumni Association’s highest honor. The following year, he was elected to membership in the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.