Pair die on way to fight AIDS Medical researchers from Columbia known worldwide for effort

Swissair Crash

September 04, 1998|By Jonathan Bor and Diana Sugg | Jonathan Bor and Diana Sugg,SUN STAFF Reporter Jill Hudson Neal and Knight Ridder/Tribune news service contributed to this article.

A pair of prominent physicians who died in the Swissair crash were mourned yesterday as giants in the global fight against AIDS who shared both science and love.

Dr. Jonathan Mann, founder of the World Health Organization's AIDS program, and his wife, Dr. Mary Lou Clements-Mann, longtime director of vaccine research at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, were flying to Geneva to help plan a new international strategy against AIDS. Both 51, they lived in Columbia.

"We've lost the greatest spokesman for health and human rights America, and we've lost a brilliant mind in vaccine development," said Dr. Michael Merson, dean of public health at Yale University School of Medicine.

Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean of the Hopkins School of Public Health, said: "Their loss will be felt deeply by all of us here and by the thousands, if not millions, of people who live better lives today because of their work."

Admirers saw Mann as as a charismatic, compassionate advocate who -- perhaps more than anyone else -- persuaded a reluctant world to confront the AIDS epidemic. Clements-Mann was described as a gentle woman who could also be a tough taskmaster in her efforts to run complex tests of vaccines against a range of diseases.

After meeting three years ago at a scientific conference, the two quickly fell in love and formed an intense bond. "They complemented each other tremendously," said Dr. David Schwartz, a Hopkins AIDS researcher. "They were soul mates."

News of the tragedy spread yesterday by fax, telephone and e-mail to the couple's colleagues around the world. Shock and grief spread throughout Hopkins' School of Public Health and the University of Maryland's vaccine program, where Clements-Mann worked in the 1980s.

"My first reaction was the unfairness of it all -- that somebody as talented and important to health and happiness should be taken like this," said Dr. Donald Berg, director of the Hopkins Center for Immunization Research.

An impromptu memorial ceremony was held yesterday afternoon WHO's office in Geneva. Another is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at the Pan American Health Organization's office in Washington.

One of Mann's greatest contributions was demonstrating that every individual in every country is vulnerable to AIDS, other scientists say. He made leaders realize it was a global threat.

In 1984, when the world knew little of the disease, Mann was one of the first scientists to go to the heart of the epidemic in the Congo and bring the news back to the world. In 1986, he created the World Health Organization's Global Program on AIDS, with only a secretary for staff.

Eventually, Mann was able to raise $120 million and help control the spread of the disease in such poor countries as Uganda and Senegal, said Dr. Fernando Zacarias, an AIDS director with the Pan American Health Organization, who traveled the globe with Mann.

Linked health and rights

Mann is credited with forcefully speaking out about the link between health and human rights. He argued against health policies such as Cuba's warehousing of HIV-positive people in sanitariums, and he worked with governments to protect the rights of those at risk. In 1987, he started World AIDS Day. In 1993, he founded a center for health and human rights at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In speeches around the world and in his book, "AIDS in the World," Mann argued that changes in individual behavior were ++ not enough to quell the AIDS epidemic. There needed to be fundamental social changes, he said, such as education and job training for women in the Third World.

A dapper man who wore starched white shirts and red bow ties, Mann commuted by train to Philadelphia each day, where since January he was helping to build the School of Public Health at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences.

A voracious reader, Mann was a Boston native who spoke four languages. He was educated at Harvard University and got his medical degree at Washington University in St. Louis. He had worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta before joining WHO. Since summer 1997, he had been a visiting professor at the Hopkins School of Public Health.

Clements-Mann was raised in Longview, Texas. She graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in chemistry, and then from the University of Texas (Southwestern) Medical School in Dallas. She also earned advanced degrees from the University of London and from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

From 1980 to 1985, she headed adult clinical trials at the University of Maryland's Center for Vaccine Development. There, she was instrumental in designing trials of a vaccine against rotavirus, one of the leading causes of diarrhea around the world. The vaccine was finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration this week.

Great predictor of success

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