After an extraordinary life and career dedicated to social justice and public health, ranging from clinical care to behavioral research to pioneering activism, our friend, leader, and colleague Alan Berkman, MD, passed away on June 5, 2009. His death came after many years of health challenges, including repeated struggles with cancer, which only reinforced his exceptional empathy for and dedication to those facing the impact of HIV/AIDS and other serious health problems.
His background included clinical care of patients with HIV and formal training in behavioral approaches to HIV prevention, and he believed that controlling the epidemic demanded the integration of prevention, treatment, and mitigation on a population level. He brought these convictions to bear as the Medical Director of the Highbridge-Woodycrest Center in the Bronx, and later as Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, where he also served as vice chair in the Department of Epidemiology.
Dr. Berkman founded the activist group Health GAP (Health Global Access Project), which worked successfully to ensure the availability of affordable HIV/AIDS medications in resource limited countries and continues to be a leading force for equitable and universal access to HIV treatments. He was a co-founder of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA). Founded on the belief that the definitive answer to controlling HIV and other serious health challenges in resource-limited countries must ultimately be found in those countries themselves, CAPRISA focuses on building research capacity in a wide range of disciplines and on strengthening the capacity of public health systems. Dr. Berkman’s work in the MTCT-Plus initiative, the Dominican AIDS Initiative, and the Mailman Mandela initiative also contributed to that goal.
At the time of his death, Dr. Berkman was Co-Director of Columbia University/Southern Africa Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program and a member of the Leadership Group of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP). At the New York State Psychiatric Institute’s HIV Center, he was a Co-Director of the Statistics, Epidemiology, and Data Core and a Co-Investigator of the Global Community Core, as well as a key research team member on studies in the Dominican Republic.
As a teacher, scholar, mentor, AIDS physician, and crusader for social justice, Dr. Berkman touched the lives of countless individuals, and in so doing enriched and improved them. His sustained passion and outrage in the face of social injustice was balanced by his unfailing interpersonal tolerance, gentleness and generosity. His moral courage and strength in the face of adversity continue to be an inspiration to us all.