Dr. Fauci: Influencer in Public Health Decisions on Infectious Diseases

Dr. Anthony Fauci Influencer in Public Health Decisions on Infectious Diseases

Dr. Fauci, one of the medical experts advising the US government and citizens in the COVID-19 pandemic, became famous decades ago because of his science-based, yet caring, approach to people suffering with or threatened by infectious diseases and bioterrorism. 

He served every US president since Ronald Reagan and served as the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Even more notable, he led US government efforts for more than 40 years in the fights against HIV/AIDS, the West Nile virus, SARS, Ebola, the swine flu epidemic, H5N1 influenza, and the H1N1 influenza pandemic, and anthrax as a bioterrorist threat. But Dr. Fauci is more than an influencer of people who make decisions about public health matters.

He is known for his groundbreaking work in identifying how to fight several infectious diseases. For example, in the war on HIV/AIDS, his research helped understand how the AIDS virus destroyed people’s immune systems and assisted in the search for an AIDS vaccine.

Notably, in his early work in AIDS research, he recognized that traditional methods of testing drugs did not work for AIDS. He then changed his career from being a scientist to a public health activist and created a division in the institute to focus only on AIDS.

He bridged the gap between protesting AIDS patients, activists, and the medical establishment and turned an antagonistic situation. The result was a set of public health policies that included the need to listen to patients. Historians also credit Dr. Fauci with influencing the Food and Drug Administration to accelerate approval for AIDS drugs.

As is the case today with the COVID-19 pandemic, his approach recognized that the war on HIV/AIDS was more than a health problem because it was integrated with ethical issues and protecting people’s rights.

After the anthrax attacks in 2001, Dr. Fauci influenced top government leaders to focus not solely on the anthrax threat but also to prepare the country for likely future bioterror attacks. This effort led to accelerating the smallpox vaccine production, funding new vaccine research, and developing an infrastructure for responding to emerging health threats in the future.

Finally, his influence led to Congress allocating money for yet unidentified but emerging infectious diseases.

In an interview in 2002, he said the HIV/AIDS epidemic also deepened his understanding of the need to tell the public that, in an evolving situation, the medical community lacks critical data for decision-making. But he believes it is essential to inform the public about the real risks so that they can act wisely until more data are available.

Dr. Fauci is a renowned expert in immunology and infectious diseases. But his ability to influence public health decision-makers goes beyond that expertise. People who know him from working with him point to important influencing behaviors: scrupulous honesty, integrity, wisdom, reliability, compassion, flexibility, and practical communication skills. And they say he never stops wanting to impact the world.

He grew up in Brooklyn and was taught by Jesuits in high school and college. In multiple interviews, he says that education shaped his communication skills so that he can be precise in expressing a problem or a solution. He learned to communicate principles without getting off track. The Jesuits also taught him to maintain logic and organization skills, which helps him in communicating as well as scientific research.

In interviews over the years, he discusses his Italian immigrant parents’ impact on his career and behaviors. His mother was goal-oriented. His father, who ran a drug store in Brooklyn and was known in the community as “Doc,” nevertheless had a laid-back personality. Fauci learned from both attitudes. His extraordinary career accomplishments led to receiving prestigious awards: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal (highest award for US civilians), the John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award (for the world’s top scientists in global health research) and the American Association of Immunologists Lifetime Achievement Award, among others. In 2019, he was inducted into the Government Hall of Fame.