The IU School of Public Health in partnership with the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention will present Dr. Anthony Fauci with the Ryan White Distinguished Leadership Award in a webinar at 5:15 pm Monday.
The award is presented to individuals who have displayed excellent work in combating HIV/AIDS. Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has worked on promoting AIDS education and research during his 37 years as director.
Senior director of RCAP and Provost Professor Dr. William Yarber worked closely with Ryan White’s mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, to establish the award in 2009. Since then, the award has been presented to 14 individuals, the first of whom being White-Ginder, in honor of White’s legacy.
White, an Indiana native, was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in 1984. He became a national face of the epidemic after enduring social and health challenges and being turned away from attending his school. Since his passing in 1990, Yarber said his mother White-Ginder has worked to carry on his story.
Yarber said he’s looking forward to hearing White-Ginder speak in Monday’s webinar.
“Her words touch the heart of those people that listen,” Yarber said.
Yarber said he and White-Ginder wanted to recognize Fauci for the work he’s done for AIDS research and education and his dedication to science. Fauci and White-Ginder originally became connected through their work together on the Ryan White CARE Act, which protected federal funding for HIV/AIDS resources for low-income or uninsured citizens in the US.
Yarber said he’s grateful Fauci will be joining even for a short while though they were unsure if he could because of his work on the pandemic.
For Yarber, Fauci’s dedication to science, despite his role being so intertwined with politics, is what makes his work so admirable.
“It’s a tricky job he has,” Yarber said. “He’s a public servant, he works for the president, but yet he’s a scientist. And he’s been able to navigate the defense of science and the truth, and not be guided by politics. He’s criticized a lot, but he’s also revered. That’s why we’re honoring him.”
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Yarber said he and White-Ginder established the award not only to recognize exceptional work in HIV/AIDS research but also to solidify White’s legacy in Indiana and at the university.
“He wanted to go to school here and died a few months before that,” Yarber said. “Another reason why we established this award 14 or 15 years ago was that not only would it recognize outstanding individuals, but it would keep Ryan connected forever at Indiana University. Even though he wasn’t able to go to school here, we haven’t forgotten him.”
Dr. Brandon Howell, assistant dean for the School of Public Health, also stressed the importance of remembering White.
“As history passes, more and more people are not familiar with Ryan’s story,” Howell said. “So getting that out to the public again, especially with Ryan’s 50th birthday, is very special.”
The webinar format of the event was organized by Amy Oakley, outreach director for the School of Public Health. Oakely said this is by far the largest online event the school has ever held, and there were 985 registrants as of noon Dec. 5. The event will reach its maximum capacity at 1000 viewers. Event registration is available here.
Oakley said she has worked to ensure the event will be safe for viewers, given Fauci’s high profile and the number in attendance.
“Noting that there has been some controversy around Dr. Fauci and his COVID-19 work, we had to make the decision to move to a webinar from a Zoom,” Oakley said. “We did that primarily for security purposes, so we wouldn’t have to deal with Zoom bombing or things of that nature.”
Holly Thrasher, another outreach specialist for the school, said she thinks some people may believe HIV and AIDS are things of the past, but that it’s important to remember there is still work to be done.
“If nothing else, I think this helps to continue to shine visibility on a public health issue and a quality of life issue that has not been solved for most of the population,” Thrasher said. “It’s every bit as real as it ever was and it’s important to keep the dialogue going.”