Tributes Flow For Pioneering Australian HIV Researcher Professor David Cooper


Pioneering HIV/AIDS researcher David Cooper

LGBTIQ health advocates are mourning the death of pioneering HIV researcher and Kirby Institute director Professor David Cooper.

Credited with diagnosing some of the first cases of HIV in Australia, Professor Cooper passed away at age 69 on Sunday after a short illness.

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He was appointed the inaugural director of the Kirby Institute – then known as National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research – in 1986, and is being remembered as a giant in the field of HIV research.

He dedicated his life to the prevention, treatment and cure of HIV and spearheaded research at the Institute that helped changed the virus from that of a near certain death sentence to a chronic manageable condition which can be treated with one pill a day.

Former High Court justice and close friend Michael Kirby said Cooper’s “special gift was having both a huge intellect and a huge heart”.

“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,” he said.

“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 LGBTI health organisation ACON’s President Dr Justin Koonin said ACON had a long history of partnering with Professor Cooper and the Kirby Institute and his death “will indelibly leave its mark on the Australian and international HIV/AIDS landscape.”

“David’s contribution to the health and wellbeing of people affected by HIV and LGBTI people has been immeasurable,” Dr Koonin said.

“We have all benefitted from his uncompromising principles and integrity, his passion, his fierce intelligence and intellect, his pioneering spirit and his compassion.

“From only being able to offer compassionate palliative care to gay men succumbing to AIDS-related illnesses in his ward at St Vincent’s Hospital, to spearheading research showing that HIV treatment leading to an undetectable viral load prevents HIV transmission, David’s lifelong dedication to people living with HIV and broader LGBTI health and wellbeing has improved countless lives of people in Australia and around the world.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to David’s family and loved ones, as well as the staff of the Kirby Institute. He will be greatly missed by all of us here at ACON as well as more broadly across the HIV and health sectors in NSW, Australia and internationally.”

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Professor Cooper was still working in the field right up to the time of his illness, running large-scale international clinical trials to improve HIV treatment, building research capacity in Indonesia and Myanmar, and leading the trial of pre-exposure prophylaxis to eliminate HIV transmission in New South Wales.

He is survived by his wife Dorrie and his daughters Becky and Ilana.

The Kirby Institute said in a statement that staff are collecting messages, stories, memories and photos about David Cooper’s life and anyone with something to share is invited to email it to lbamford@kirby.unsw.edu.au

(Photo by University of New South Wales)