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Remembering David Cooper

The story of HIV is a modern medical miracle. From despair and tragedy, we have moved into an era of chronic treatable illness, in just 30 years.
- David Cooper

It is with incredible sadness that the International AIDS Society (IAS) has learned of the sudden passing of our Past President, Professor David Cooper (1994-1998). He passed away on 18 March 2018, surrounded by his family at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Australia, at the age of 68 after a short illness. The world has lost one of its pioneering and boldest leaders in the fight against HIV.

"David played a crucial role in developing the drug trials for many of the HIV medications currently on the market and saving lives today," IAS President Linda-Gail Bekker said. "He was a brave researcher, an invaluable collaborator and is an irreplaceable force in the HIV community."

David was internationally recognized as a leading HIV clinician and clinical investigator. Since diagnosing some of Australia's first cases of HIV in 1983, he dedicated his career to HIV epidemiology, treatment and prevention. Helping those most vulnerable was at the core of his life's work, leading studies on HIV prevention and therapeutic strategies in low- and middle-income countries.

"Throughout his career, David continued to consult as a physician and was renowned for his compassion with each of his patients," IAS Executive Director Owen Ryan said. "That perfectly encapsulates the genuine heartfelt nature of who David was and how he approached his work. We are forever indebted to him for his vision, tenacity and humanity."   

David was the Inaugural Director of the Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society, established in 1986. The Kirby Institute has long been the pillar of HIV and AIDS epidemiology, surveillance and research in Australia. As the head of the Kirby Institute, David worked with HIV clinicians and researchers around the world, but perhaps nowhere as closely as in Asia. Under his direction, the Kirby Institute developed collaborative programmes in several countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

Under his leadership, the programmes involved training healthcare workers and health researchers, and advising governments on public health and clinical policy to increase access to essential medicines.

In 1996, he co-founded HIV-NAT, a clinical research and trials collaboration based at the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre at the Chulalongkorn University Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. He has authored more than 800 published scientific papers and been on editorial boards of several international journals.

During his tenure as IAS President, he led the International AIDS Conference in Vancouver, Canada (AIDS 1996). That conference, which presented the introduction of combination therapy, served as a turning point in the history of AIDS. His leadership helped usher in a new era of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). In this interview, David reflected on that time:

Our thoughts are with his friends and family. The international community of HIV scientists and advocates are forever grateful for his tremendous contributions to the field. We will miss him.

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Mandy Sugrue
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