Dr Anthony Fauci has emerged as the face of America’s fight against coronavirus. But he is also battling the dangerous spread of misinformation, sometimes from within his own government.
Over his five decades as a medical researcher, Anthony Fauci has seen his effigy burnt, heard the cries of protesters calling him a “murderer”, and had smoke bombs thrown outside his office window.
But he has also been praised as the most famous doctor in America, and the man whose compassion and calm helped the US make otherwise impossible strides in confronting a public health crisis.
As head of immunology at the National Institutes of Health during the 1980s HIV/Aids epidemic, Dr Fauci, 79, has seen conflict before.
Now, as President Trump has proclaimed that the US stands on a “war footing” to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, he has again become the man at the frontline.
Son of a ‘Doc’
Born on Christmas Eve, 1940 to a family of immigrant Italian pharmacists in Brooklyn, Anthony was “delivering prescriptions from the time I was old enough to ride a bike,” he told the Holy Cross college alumni magazine in 2002.
In 1966, he graduated first in his class at Cornell medical school, whose library he had helped build as an undergraduate working construction to earn money over the summers.
Following a medical residency, he joined the NIH in 1968 as part of the US war effort, instead of being drafted to fight in Vietnam. “Yellow Berets”, the researchers were called – a play on military division Green Berets.
A turning point in his career came decades later, he said, when a report landed on his desk on June 5, 1981, describing the death of an otherwise healthy patient from a strange pneumonia normally seen in people with cancer. Another report soon followed describing 26 deaths, all gay men.
“I remember reading it very clearly,” he later said. “It was the first time in my medical career I actually got goose pimples. I no longer dismissed it as a curiosity. There was something very wrong here. This was really a new microbe of some sort, acting like a sexually transmitted disease.”
Medicine man and ‘murderer’
As a clinician, Dr Fauci’s work on the regulation of the human immune system was credited with helping to reveal how the HIV virus destroys the body’s defences. He led clinical trials for zidovudine, the first antiretroviral drug to treat Aids.
As the epidemic swept through the US in the 1980s, however, he became the target of activists angry at the Reagan administration’s muted response and lack of access to novel drugs.