Voices 1: Jose Esparza and AIDS

Observations

When it comes to the Voices of the Vanguard lectures, it’s hard to decide which aspect to tackle first. There’s Jose Esparza of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who has done a tremendous amount of life work on AIDS, then there’s journalism regarding AIDS over the decades, then there’s the research and development of the AIDS vaccines, and finally, there’s all of this in relation to myself as a reporter, an admirer, and a human being observing the world of AIDS discussions.

Briefly, the lecture — Esparza gave a nice overview of his own life timeline in relation to AIDS research developments, and he kept an unwieldy subject under control. Hailing from Maracibo, Venezuela, he enrolled in med school at 16 and studied equine encephalitis. Talk about impressive! He worked extensively with rotaviruses and gastroenteritis (apparently a major killer of Venezuelan children at the time) and then yellow fever under the WHO. He joined HIV research in 1997 and spoke a good bit about the various trials held in Thailand, South Africa, and North America. I enjoyed many of his thoughts about vaccines, especially that “We’ve learned that vaccines are safe, they have different degrees of immunogenicity, and efficacy trials are the only way to really test if a vaccine works.”

Moving forward, an effective vaccine will “take persistent collaboration,” he said.

This is the same ruffled scientist that Pat described in her book, “Big Shot” about the struggle for the AIDS vaccine. He’s affable, conversational, and seems genuinely interested in holding conversations about AIDS vaccines and the possibilities of future research. 

As for a personal reflection, I was floored by how much Esparza has accomplished in his life. How many scientists can claim the same? How does a person find a passion to pursue the same area of research for decades?

And most importantly — will I someday soon find the same? I hope I’m not already behind in this aspect. I’ve been pursuing journalism since eighth grade, but I’m still figuring out the best way to practice it.

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