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.