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Inaugural Tutu Professor Chris Beyrer fights for health and human rights

70 percent of people with HIV in the U.S. not effectively treated
Posted November 15, 2016

Beyrer collaborates with Richard E. Chaisson, MD.

Beyrer conducts street outreach in Thailand Beyrer conducts street outreach in Thailand

“To be neutral in a situation of injustice is to have chosen sides already. It is to support the status quo.”

These words from Anglican Archbishop and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu are echoed in the research of Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH ’91, who this year was named the inaugural Desmond M. Tutu Professor of Public Health and Human Rights.

The founding director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR) at the Bloomberg School, Beyrer has dedicated his career to fighting for marginalized communities, particularly for those suffering with HIV and AIDS internationally and nationally.

"About 70 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. are not effectively treated," Beyrer says, explaining he has just started a new four-city case management intervention study. The cities are Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta, and Birmingham.

"What I have really come to understand as a practicing infectious disease epidemiologist is that not paying attention to the human rights context, to the social justice issues, is not good science," says Beyrer, who has also done extensive health outreach in Thailand and South Africa.

"And being the Tutu Professor is one of the great personal honors of my life," he says. "Archbishop Tutu has been a very instrumental and inspirational figure for me." 

Tutu and Beyrer have collaborated on efforts against LGTB discrimination in Uganda, the Darfur genocide in Sudan, and the persecution of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, as well as mobilizing following the economic and health care system collapse in Zimbabwe in 2008.

"I'm elated," said Tutu about Beyrer's being bestowed the professorship in his name. "It's quite crucial that people see the provision of health as an issue," he adds.

Donors to the professorship, Ed and Kathy Ludwig — who first met Beyrer on a trip to Thailand in 2000 — say the two make a great pair, as both are leaders in the human rights field.

"Chris is a gifted intellectual, gifted doctor, researcher. In addition to being tireless, he is absolutely courageous," says Ed Ludwig, emeritus chair of the Bloomberg School Health Advisory Board.

"His values align with Desmond Tutu's values," adds Kathy Ludwig, who serves as chair of the CPHHR Advisory Committee. "They do what they say they're going to do, with humility."

Among other things, the professorship will allow additional support for junior colleagues, for example by funding a Tutu fellow, according to Beyrer, who also serves as co-principal investigator of the Johns Hopkins Center for AIDS Research and associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health. He also directs the Johns Hopkins Training Program in HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Science, and he just finished his term as president of the International AIDS Society.

To learn more about endowing a professorship at the Bloomberg School, please contact Heath Elliott, associate dean for External Affairs, at 410-502-5275.