Pioneering Aussie HIV doctor dies
THE man who first diagnosed HIV in Australia and went on to become a world authority on the infectious disease has died suddenly after a short illness.
Dr David Cooper was a young immunologist at the Dana Faber Cancer Centre in Boston in the 1980s when blood samples from New York began arriving for testing with what was then the unknown AIDS virus that was fatally attacking the body's immune system.
He thought at that time if it was happening in the United States then it would be happening in Australia and particularly in Sydney with its large gay community which at that time was suspected to be the only risk group to be succumbing to the disease.
From Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital he went on to make global groundbreaking research on the disease initiating the nation's first clinical HIV research studies and in a world first, he helped define the initial HIV infection.
In 1991 he was named chair of the World Health Organisation's Global AIDS Program committee on clinical research and drug development.
He went on to research and combat the disease for 30 years and authored 800 published scientific papers.
Dr Cooper AO, aged in his 70s, died unexpectedly at St Vincent's from an unspecified virus leaving behind his wife Dorrie and his beloved daughters Becky and Ilana.
"In St Vincent's 160-year history, there are few of our clinicians who have transformed the health landscape in such a significant way," Hospital CEO Associate Professor Anthony Schembri said today.
"Initiating groundbreaking, collaborative infectious disease research that has saved countless lives in Australia, and throughout the world, David was among the first responders when the HIV epidemic reached Australia in the early 1980s and the inaugural director in 1986 of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at St Vincent's, that grew to become the Kirby Institute."
Accolades for the medico flowed from all quarters.
"David's special gift was having both a huge intellect and a huge heart," former High Court justice and close friend Michael Kirby AC said.
"It was his intellect that made him a leader in the global response to the AIDS epidemic and led to the building of the Kirby Institute. But it was his great heart that all who knew him, his family, his colleagues and his patients, could witness every day. He was first a clinician, and that made him a great scientist. We will miss him terribly and be all too aware of his absence."
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said: "Professor Cooper's passing will be deeply felt across the Jewish community and we send our condolences to his family, colleagues and all those touched by his work."
Professor Cooper credited his Jewish background and being considered "different", for his empathy for his almost all gay male patients of the 1980s suffering from the then misunderstood disease.