Columbia University Medical Center

Wafaa El-Sadr Named A 2008 Macarthur Fellow

Fellows selected for creativity, originality, potential to make important contributions in the future; receive $500,000—no strings attached
New York (Sept. 23, 2008) —Wafaa El-Sadr, M.D., M.P.H., professor of clinical epidemiology and director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, today was named one of the 2008 MacArthur Fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This exceptional honor was bestowed on 25 individuals for 2008, selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.

(Photo Credit: MacArthur Foundation)
Wafaa El-Sadr, M.D., M.P.H.
Dr. El-Sadr, who is also professor of clinical medicine at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Harlem Hospital Center, is a global leader in the field of infectious disease and public health. She has redefined the field with innovative models of prevention, care, and treatment for HIV and tuberculosis. She has pioneered a multi-faceted, family-focused approach to prevention, care, and treatment of diseases that disproportionately affect people with the least access to quality healthcare. Through her work developing effective programs in impoverished and immigrant communities in Harlem, as well as in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. El-Sadr has set ever-improved standards for healthcare delivery for patients facing devastating disease under severe economic hardship and societal challenges.

“This is an extraordinary honor for a truly extraordinary person,” says Linda Fried, M.D., M.P.H., dean, Mailman School of Public Health. “The respect for Dr. El-Sadr’s scientific leadership in the field is only surpassed by the awe for the depth of her compassion, commitment, creativity, and tenacity. It is a privilege to have her on our faculty.”

MacArthur Fellowships offer the opportunity for Fellows to accelerate their current activities or take their work in new directions. The unusual level of independence afforded to Fellows underscores the spirit of freedom intrinsic to creative endeavors. “The MacArthur Fellows Program celebrates extraordinarily creative individuals who inspire new heights in human achievement,” said MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton. “With their boldness, courage, and uncommon energy, this new group of Fellows, men and women of all ages in diverse fields, exemplifies the boundless nature of the human mind and spirit.”

“This is just an incredible honor and an enormous responsibility,” states Dr. El-Sadr. “I owe a debt of gratitude to so many people in Harlem and around the world who have inspired my work every step of the way. My hope is that this award will highlight the importance of supporting the programs needed by families and communities around the world as they confront the HIV epidemic and other major health threats.”

Dr. El-Sadr is highly respected for her scientific leadership and contributions in the medical and public health arenas. She is one of the world’s leading advocates for family-centered models of HIV prevention, care, and treatment. When AIDS struck New York City in the 1980s, as a leader in infectious diseases at the Harlem Hospital Center, Dr. El-Sadr launched very effective integrated models of care for HIV and tuberculosis. This nationally and internationally acclaimed model program was specifically designed to meet the needs of patients from the Harlem community, including women and substance users infected with HIV, and was among the first to incorporate treatment and research at the same site.

She is well known for her work in the area of tuberculosis, having developed the highly successful Harlem Directly Observed Therapy Program with its innovative “surrogate” family model. The program attracted patients to the clinic by providing a uniquely supportive family environment. It achieved high rates of treatment adherence and completion and is credited with making a significant contribution to curbing the tuberculosis epidemic in Harlem in the early 1990s.

Dr. El-Sadr has been at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health since 2001, and in 2002 was recruited to head the School’s MTCT-Plus Initiative, which recognizes that providing care and treatment to women is an essential component of efforts to prevent maternal-to-child-transmission of HIV (pMTCT). In 2004, based on the successful model of care launched by the MTCT-Plus Initiative, the Mailman School established the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), directed by Dr. El-Sadr, to support national and local HIV programs in resource-poor countries. In 2004, ICAP received the largest grant in Columbia University’s history when it was awarded $125 million from the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Under Dr. El-Sadr’s stellar leadership, more than 500,000 people are currently receiving care in more than 600 ICAP-supported sites in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. By the end of last year, ICAP supported almost 10 percent of all individuals and 12% of all children receiving antiretroviral treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. Her work is distinguished by its sensitivity to the needs of communities, by its foundation on science, and by its focus on building true partnerships with organizations on the ground.

“The impact of Dr. El-Sadr’s work can be felt in New York City, throughout the country, and, indeed, around the world. There are few people who can have such a deep effect on the lives of so many. Dr. El-Sadr is remarkable-both the depth and breadth of her expertise in the field, and her dedication to the overall well-being of her patients and the communities she serves around the world. We at Columbia University Medical Center congratulate her on this singular honor,” said Lee Goldman, M.D., M.P.H., Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, Columbia University.

Born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, Dr. El-Sadr received her medical degree from Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University in Egypt, an MPH (Epidemiology) from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and an MPA from Harvard University.

The Mailman School of Public Health is at the forefront of global health, leading the field in the areas of maternal child health, environmental health, HIV/AIDS, and emerging infectious disease, to name a few. The School’s faculty, working in over 100 countries around the world and through strong partnerships with international and local institutions, link research, education, and public health practice in order to improve the health status of populations, particularly the most disadvantaged.


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