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HIV infected cell electron micrograph 1903x558 ;

How the AIDS pandemic shaped my career

Professor Bronwyn Parry

Professor of Global Health & Social Medicine, Department of Global Health & Social Medicine

23 February 2022

Only forty years ago, a pandemic swept across the world, killing thousands of people. While many people think that the COVID-19 pandemic is the first pandemic of their lifetimes, the LBGT+ community would argue otherwise. The HIV/AIDS pandemic affected countless people (and still does in parts of the world). Professor Bronwyn Parry reflects on her experience during the 1980s as HIV and AIDS spread through Sydney, Australia – and how this period went on to shape her research and academic career in global health and social medicine.

My interest in research first came about many years ago when I was in Australia. I was in my 20s when the HIV/AIDS pandemic began in Sydney in the early 1980s. Many of my closest friends were stricken down with the virus and eventually died. It was so catastrophic that I was compelled to try and understand how the virus could have escaped and become such a profound health issue.

I was incredibly struck by just how much effect social circumstance, timing and public attitudes can have on shaping people’s life or death experiences in pandemics. That was something I really wanted to understand more about. 

So after I had been exposed to the first-hand experience of dealing with the fall out of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Sydney, I decided that I really needed to go back to university to educate myself around those issues. I learned a lot more about the condition and discovered various things. Following initial infection with the HIV virus, an individual may not notice any symptoms or they think it’s just a cold. This is typically followed by a prolonged incubation period, and as the infection progresses, it interferes more with the immune system, increasing the risk of developing other infections. Added to this, persistent misinformation and beliefs around HIV and AIDS can act to complicate things further.

Over the past forty years, AIDS (the later stage of HIV) has caused an estimated 36 million deaths worldwide, officially becoming a pandemic – a disease outbreak which is present over a large area and is actively spreading. Despite its continued presence in many parts of the world, we have recently received news that a patient who received a stem cell transplant from someone with natural resistance to HIV may have become the first woman in the world to be cured of AIDS. Let’s hope it’s the start of the ultimate elimination of this pernicious disease.

Hear more about Bronwyn’s research journey

Professor Bronwyn Parry shares her journey from experience the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Sydney, Australia, to working in India on assisted reproduction, to joining the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s. She is currently researching assisted dying and supporting the translation of research into policy.

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Bronwyn Parry

Bronwyn Parry

Visiting Professor

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