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Winter 2014

En Route to a Revolution

Date: February 1, 2014

Walensky is taking a global approach to AIDS research.
Walensky is taking a global approach to AIDS research.

It was partway into Rochelle Walensky’s internship that the FDA approved highly active antiretroviral therapy for AIDS patients, opening her eyes to a revolution in medicine. Patients all were going to die when she started her program, and by the time she finished, “we had the vision of them living,” recalls Walensky ’95, who went on to complete her residency in internal medicine here (1995–98). “It was an amazing time.” Seeing “gentle, brilliant” infectious disease experts like John Bartlett and Richard Chaisson caring for them “was really remarkable to watch,” she says.

Walensky was so inspired she has dedicated her career to improving the fields of HIV medicine and global health policy. A professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals, Walensky was the first investigator to assess cumulative survival benefits of AIDS treatment in the United States, justifying increased investment in research and treatment. She also demonstrated that routine, voluntary HIV testing is effective and cost-effective in clinical settings in the U.S., and she has received funding to implement the first randomized clinical trial of alternative strategies for HIV testing protocols in an emergency department setting.

AIDS treatment today “is pretty darn good,” she says, “and patients who take it can live well and for a long time.” But challenges remain in case identification—finding those who don’t know they have HIV, or who don’t have the skills or support to comply with medication management. More recently, Walensky has expanded her research focus internationally, with active collaborative teams conducting HIV screening in France, Côte d’Ivoire, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Uganda.

Walensky is a member of the Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents, and is one of 12 experts on the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council, a group appointed by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

She and her husband, Loren Walensky ’97, proudly returned to Baltimore last spring for her induction into Hopkins’ Society of Scholars. “Hopkins gave me the roots, the place, the route, and the network” to navigate a successful professional career, she says. “I have much of my heart there.” KB