By Chris Adams
When it comes to infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci has just about seen them all.
As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, Fauci sits atop the center that is part of the National Institutes of Health, the world’s premier biomedical research institution. It means he’s seen the emergence of HIV/AIDS as a major public health threat recent to current worries about what he calls “emerging and re-emerging” infectious diseases – Zika virus, Ebola, anthrax bioterrorism, drug-resistant malaria and now measles.
Fauci has served under six presidents while at NIAID, which has a budget of about $5.5 billion and funds internal and external research on a range of health conditions. In addition to a host of major scientific awards, Fauci is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian by the president of the United States.
Fauci talked about infectious diseases – and his remarkable career – in a session with National Press Foundation fellows. Fauci talked about the outbreaks and epidemics he has seen during his tenure and the lessons he has learned from each; some have been subject to major advances in treatments, while other have been stubbornly resistant to such advances.
He talked through each of the presidents he has served, and the infectious disease crises that happened on their watches. The first was HIV/AIDS during the tenure of President Ronald Reagan.
Among recent outbreaks, he talked about Zika virus and the reemergence of measles in the U.S. after having been eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. He called the latter “a disgrace” and excoriated vaccine critics.
Some infectious public health outbreaks materialize into full-blown crises, while others don’t, Fauci said. One of the latter was the concern over a potential outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014-2015, which despite early fears didn’t materialize into a major problem in the U.S. but is now approaching a crisis again in Africa.
During all the presidential administrations, the one constant has been that there is no constant. So what will be in store for President Donald Trump – or who comes after him?
“I have no idea what’s next, because everything we saw was unexpected,” Fauci said.