NIH Launches Online AIDS Oral History Project

Date: June 4, 2001
Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Author: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

"We received a referral to the NIH, in June of 1981, of a patient D who, as we shall discuss, turned out to be the first patient seen at NIH with AIDS." - Dr. Thomas Waldmann

"I made the decision that we would have to switch over to research on this disease [AIDS] because, as every month went by, I became more convinced that we were dealing with something that was going to be a disaster for society." - Dr. Anthony S. Fauci

What did researchers think, feel, and do when AIDS - eventually traced to a smoldering new virus that would wreak havoc worldwide - first emerged? To commemorate the twentieth anniversary on June 5th of the first publication about AIDS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announces the launch of a new Web site titled "In Their Own Words: NIH Researchers Recall the Early Years of AIDS" ( The site features compelling stories told in the transcripts of interviews NIH Historian Victoria A. Harden, Ph.D., conducted with physicians, scientists, nurses, and administrators involved in AIDS research at NIH. The voices of some of them can be heard in audio clips featured in brief chapters highlighting their first encounters with AIDS patients, the discovery of HIV, the search for treatments, and other aspects of AIDS research at NIH in the 1980s.

An ongoing project, the site will be updated over time with more oral histories and other archival material. It is a window into the world of biomedical science for the public, and it is expected to be a valuable resource for scholars, students, the media, and policy makers interested in the history of AIDS research.

"As a historian of science and medicine working in an institution leading the world in formulating a response to a new infectious disease," comments Dr. Harden, "I thought it was imperative to document and preserve what was happening here." She began the AIDS history project in 1988, shortly after the NIH established a history office and hired her as its director. "The people who have suffered with or died from AIDS and those who have cared for people with AIDS need to know that from the beginning, a group of highly skilled and caring people at NIH worked as hard as people could to address the problem."

In addition to the oral history transcripts and brief biographies, the site features a 1981-1988 timeline of key events in AIDS history, focused mainly on NIH and other federal agencies, as well as document and image archives. The document archive includes selected press releases, articles authored by Dr. Harden, as well as copies of the AIDS Memorandum, a fast-track way to circulate unpublished observations and data among NIH AIDS researchers in the early 1980s.

"In the past 20 years, advances in HIV/AIDS research have been extraordinary, but much remains to be accomplished, especially in terms of remaining vigilant in our fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States and in bringing the benefits of AIDS research to poorer countries around the world," comments Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "Dr. Harden's office has done a great service to the public and to medical historians in documenting how NIH responded during the early years of AIDS."

Dr. Fauci has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the NIH institute that funds most HIV/AIDS research, since 1984. He was among the first researchers at NIH to focus on AIDS research, and in early 1982, he took care of one of the first AIDS patients admitted to the NIH. His is among the transcripts that can be accessed via the Web site. Among the other approximately 20 transcripts currently online are those of Drs. Robert Gallo, H. Clifford Lane, Samuel Broder, Christine Grady, Thomas C. Quinn, Harvey Klein and Robert Yarchoan.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.