If you are an AIDS activist, chances are you have heard of Dr. Helene Gayle. She’s currently the leader of an international humanitarian organization, but she is best known for her contributions to HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness.

Dr. Gayle worked to combat HIV/AIDS for 20 years as director of the AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control. She also worked as AIDS chief of the HIV/AIDS division and AIDS coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and directed the HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Gayle’s experience sparked the interest of President Barack Obama, who named her chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in August.

“She’s definitely among the top leading experts in the public health field,” said Dr. Steve Morin, director of the University of California-San Francisco’s Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. “Her work is particularly important in terms of reducing the number of new infections in the U.S., linking people to care and treatment and reducing HIV-related health disparities.”

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A 2007 United Nations report estimated more than 30 million people in the world were living with HIV, with about 1.3 million living in North America. And the deadly virus has a significant effect on the black community; with almost half of the 2007 HIV/AIDS diagnosed patients being African-American, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As the numbers of new HIV cases continue to roll in by the millions worldwide, effective leadership in research, prevention and awareness is vital in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“Her current leadership predicts that she will be able to provide the necessary leadership for the future years,” said Dr. Morin. Future years, according to Dr. Morin, that may yield huge advances in HIV/AIDS research. In the next twenty years or less, we may experience “significant breakthroughs” in eradicating HIV, said Dr. Morin. But, he warns, viral eradication will not necessarily lead to finding a cure.

Regardless, between now and the time when a cure is found, Dr. Gayle’s international efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS no doubt will serve as a major means to a much needed end.