Dr. Jean W. Pape Receives France's Legion of Honor for Two Decades of Outstanding Service to Health in Haiti

HIV Vaccine Trials Continue in Haiti

Dec 18, 2002


Dr. Jean W. Pape, an internationally recognized infectious disease expert and Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, has received France's highest distinction, the Legion d'honneur, for his work of more than two decades, fighting disease in his native Haiti. France's President Jacques Chirac made the award, citing Dr. Pape's "contributions to the improvement of the health of the Haitian people and that of people around the world."

Bridging two countries, Dr. Pape is the Director of GHESKIO (Groupe Haitien d'Etudes du Sarcome de Kaposi et des Infections Opportunistes), the second-oldest institution in the world, after the United States Centers for Disease Control, dedicated to the battle against HIV/AIDS. GHESKIO also works against other diseases, especially childhood diarrhea and tuberculosis. Dr. Pape's efforts have saved countless lives from the ravages of childhood diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

With Dr. Pape as Principal Investigator, Cornell/GHESKIO has recently been selected, among only six international sites, to conduct an HIV clinical trial with the Merck DNA-based vaccine, which appears to be one of the most promising candidate vaccines to date. The same trial will be conducted at 10 U.S. sites as well, including at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. GHESKIO has also been conducting an NIH-sponsored HIV vaccine trial since March 2001.

Dr. Pape, who received his M.D. from Weill Cornell Medical College in 1975, initiated GHESKIO in 1982 as an organization with a staff of two. He has built it into an internationally renowned institution with a staff of 110 addressing a range of diseases. Along the way, GHESKIO has produced over 70 scholarly publications—most notably, in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1983, the first paper on AIDS in a developing country. As Dr. Pape's mentor, Dr. Warren D. Johnson, Jr., Chief of Weill Cornell's Division of International Medicine and Infectious Diseases, puts it, "The official posture in Haiti at the time was that AIDS did not exist in the country, and to state otherwise was considered treasonable."

Under Dr. Pape's leadership, GHESKIO has provided care to over 100,000 children in its pediatric rehydration unit and has trained over 14,000 healthcare workers. It is credited with the country's dramatic decrease in infant mortality from 140 per 1,000 live births in 1982 to 74 per 1,000 in 1994. While the numbers in the oral rehydration program have dropped, GHESKIO continues to have over 100,000 patient visits annually for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

GHESKIO has been supported by a wide range of public and private organizations, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the United Nations Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. It is currently seeking to raise the funds necessary to build an expanded facility, to be called the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Reproductive Health.

To qualify for the Legion d'honneur, a person must have dedicated no less than 20 years to public service and demonstrated outstanding achievement. When Dr. Pape received the award, Dr. Johnson said, "No one is more deserving of such an honor. He has truly dedicated himself to the people of Haiti." Both Dr. Johnson and Dr. Pape are becoming more and more recognized for their work in Haiti; two years ago, Dr. Pape was cited at the United Nations by Secretary General Kofi Annan for his service to the Haitian people, and Dr. Johnson was honored by GHESKIO at a major fundraising event in Haiti earlier this year.