HIV Research Pioneer Mathilde Krim Remembered For Her Activism : Shots - Health News Mathilde Krim, who died this week, was a vocal pioneer in HIV treatment and research at a time when discrimination against people with AIDS in the U.S. was rampant, even in medical care.

Pioneering HIV Researcher Mathilde Krim Remembered For Her Activism

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A pioneer in AIDS research has died. Biologist Mathilde Krim started the American Foundation for AIDS Research 35 years ago. During a time of confusion and fear over the growing epidemic, Krim raised millions of dollars to finance studies, clinical trials and AIDS awareness programs. NPR's Patti Neighmond has this profile.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Mathilde Krim was born in Italy, received her doctorate in biology from the University of Geneva and was a dedicated activist for human rights. As a young woman, she joined the resistance against the Nazis during World War II. She lived in Israel, moved to the U.S. in the late '50s and was studying viruses and cancer when the AIDS epidemic began in the early '80s. Krim was among the first scientists to raise funds for research to develop AIDS treatment. Corey Johnson is speaker of the New York City Council.

COREY JOHNSON: She became just a key, key leader. And she has literally likely saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives because of what she did during the initial days and years of the epidemic. And every single one of us living with HIV today who are on these medicines where now we can live and thrive - it's because of people like Dr. Mathilde Krim.

NEIGHMOND: Who not only raised money but also raised awareness about the disease and demanded people pay attention. Kevin Robert Frost is CEO of the organization Krim founded now called the Foundation for AIDS Research.

KEVIN ROBERT FROST: She did it in this sort of grandmotherly way but yet in a very direct and very honest way.

NEIGHMOND: Helping people confront difficult issues of the time - sex, drug use, homosexuality.

FROST: And Dr. Krim was able to address all of those things and sweep aside the stigma and the discrimination that was associated with these communities in a way that I think very few people could have at the time.

NEIGHMOND: Krim took on the political establishment at a time when most lawmakers were silent and when discrimination against people with AIDS was rampant in housing, employment and even medical care. Krim fought for laws to ban discrimination. She campaigned for needle exchange programs to stop the spread of AIDS among drug users and promoted public campaigns for safe sex. Peter Staley, a longtime AIDS activist and early member of the advocacy group ACT UP, says Krim's approach to public health was groundbreaking.

PETER STALEY: She recognized human nature for what it was - its faults and its beautiful diversity. And she realized that using science and a traditional public health approach was the way to save lives. You throw out the moralizing. You throw out the finger wagging, and you saved lives. And she did this again and again and again. She fought HIV stigma. She fought homophobia.

NEIGHMOND: Krim received 16 honorary doctorates. And in the year 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Kevin Robert Frost says despite the profound sadness he feels, there is also a sense of joy.

FROST: Albert Einstein once said that only a life lived for others is the life worthwhile. And Dr. Krim chose to live a life worthwhile. And I think in recognizing that, there is so much joy to be found in a human being who could devote themselves so completely to the people around them.

NEIGHMOND: Dr. Mathilde Krim passed away at her home in New York state at the age of 91. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.


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