The AIDS Avengers

Real-Life Superheroes Rally in the Global Fight Against HIV/AIDS
Text and Photos by Sean Black

While Marvel’s latest box office smash, The Avengers, gave us a cool and entertaining alternative to the blistering summer heat, a real-life team of doctors, scientists, and leaders in public health from around the globe united in a plot to conquer the evil villain AIDS and its Army of Social Injustices.

Dr. Jose Zuniga

Dr. Jose Zuniga, PhD, MPH, President and Chief Executive Officer, International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC)

Home Base: United States
Special Power: Commitment to Organizing Global Forces to Improve Quality of Care for People Living with HIV/AIDS
Archenemies: Intolerance, Isolation and Discrimination

Along with his team at IAPAC, and the National Institute of Mental Health and the British HIV Association (BHIVA), he brought together world health leaders at the 7th Annual International Conference on HIV Treatment and Prevention Adherence in Miami, Florida, from June 3–5, 2012 and at the Controlling the HIV Epidemic with Antiretrovirals Evidence Summit in London from June 11–12, 2012. He was recognized with an award honoring his twenty-five-year-long commitment to the fight against AIDS at the conference hosted in Miami.

Gabriel Adeyemo, Regional Focal Point, Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA)–West Africa

Gabriel Adeyemo

Home Base: Nigeria
Special Power: Youth Advocacy for New Biomedical Prevention Technologies
Archenemies: Fear and Ignorance

From Nigeria, in West Africa, Gabriel coordinates GYCA core regional activities related but not limited to the prevention and behavioral changes among youth, for whom he acts as a steadfast ally. He is an intern with the HIV Research Unit of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and a volunteer with the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS) where he coordinates the Students’ for Microbicide (S4M) Group. “I participated in the summit in London for the sake of acquiring more knowledge and familiarizing myself more about pre-exposure prophylaxis [PrEP] and Treatment as Prevention [TasP]. I also attended to learn more for the upcoming Nigerian HIV Vaccine plan that is set to roll out very soon.”

Dr. Sheena McCormack (right) speaks with Dr. Kenneth Mayer, co-chair of the Controlling the HIV Epidemic with Antiretrovirals Evidence Summit in London in June.
Dr. Sheena McCormack, MSc, FRCP, Senior Clinical Scientist, MRC Clinical Trials Unit, and member of the UK Medical Research Council

Home Base: United Kingdom
Special Powers: Unifying and Integrating Efforts in Biomedical Research
Archenemy: Shame

Dr. McCormack is responsible for the Help Make History project at MRC Clinical Trials Unit, which builds networks of volunteers, a key ingredient to successful study trials. “If we are clever about implementing the new biomedical tools we have, and ensuring they are integrated in existing efforts to change behavior at the grass-roots level, we could facilitate the pace of change. That is where I am directing my efforts!”

Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, MD, Director of the HIV Department, World Health Organization

Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall

Home Base: Switzerland
Special Powers: Human Rights and Public Health
Archenemy: Defeat

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system and Dr. Hirnschall heads its division focused on HIV. Along with WHO leaders, he is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters as they relate to HIV/AIDS, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries, and monitoring and assessing health trends. WHO believes, “In the twenty-first century, health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defense against transnational threats.”

Dr. Susan Adakun

Dr. Susan Adakun, MD, Doctor of Internal Medicine, Second Year Resident, Mbarara University

Home Base: Uganda
Special Power: Public Health Education
Archenemy: Apathy

Dr. Adakun reminds us that although HIV transmission in Uganda has been reduced to about 6.2 percent compared to the 1980s’ rate of infection, which she calls “gross,” not using condoms or not using condoms correctly is a reason the rates are on the rise again. “In the late eighties and early ninties, the ABC strategy had really picked up and was effective. A was for Abstinence, B was for Being faithful and C was for Condom use. Initially, ABC was preached everywhere and it actually reduced the rates of HIV transmissions; however the ABC campaign is currently sluggish. It is not being talked about the way that it was talked about back then. So I think if we reminded people and bring it back by putting it on billboards and on radio, it would once again improve the reduction of HIV transmission rates.”

Dr. Robert H. Remien, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Clinical Psychology (in Psychiatry), Columbia University and Research

Dr. Robert H. Remien with panel member and AIDS advocate Quintara "Lady Queen" Lane

Scientist, HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, NY State Psychiatric Institute

Home Base: United States
Special Powers: Compassion and Mental Health
Archenemy: Stigma

Dr. Remien has been involved in HIV treatment and care since the beginning of the epidemic in New York City and has been conducting HIV-related research since 1987 when the HIV Center was first established with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health. He recently moderated the “Treatment Adherence in Daily Life: Perspectives from People Living with HIV” panel discussion at the 7th Annual International Conference on HIV Treatment and Prevention Adherence in Miami, where he led an informative talk with six South Florida advocates living with HIV, including Quintara “Lady Queen” Lane, and speaking openly about topics centered around treatment and adherence of their own personal medical regimens.

Dr. Kevin Fenton

Dr. Kevin Fenton, MD, PhD, FFPH, Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Home Base: United States
Special Powers: Leadership and Implementation Science
Archenemy: Health Disparities

Under Dr. Fenton’s leadership, the CDC has expanded its efforts to engage, mobilize, and partner with at-risk communities to address health disparities. He helped launch Act Against AIDS, the first national communications campaign about HIV/AIDS in over a decade. Dr. Fenton has championed the need for more integrated and comprehensive approaches to HIV, hepatitis, STD, and TB prevention through the implementation

Dr. Papa Salif Sow

of several major health initiatives. He has strengthened and expanded the CDC’s commitment to addressing health equity by focusing on the social and structural determinants of health. This summer he presented a plenary discussion titled, “Building the Prevention 2.0 Ship As We Sail Her” at London’s Evidence Summit to steer us in the direction of a world without AIDS.

For more information, log on to the following organizations’ Web sites: International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care,; Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS,; Help Make History Project,; CDC,; World Health Organization,

Sean Black is Editor at Large for A&U.

September 2012

Previous articlemtvU Fellows
Next articleAngie Suarez