AIDS researchers are in shock today after learning that Jonathan Mann, former director of the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Global Program on AIDS (GPA), was killed last night in the crash of a Swissair jet on its way to Geneva from New York. Also killed in the crash was Mann's wife, Mary Lou Clements-Mann of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, an expert on AIDS vaccine development. Mann was a charismatic and outspoken epidemiologist who earned high marks for his dedication to the fight against AIDS, even from those who did not always agree with his sometimes scathing criticisms of public health leaders.
Mann and Clements-Mann were traveling to attend a meeting in Geneva on AIDS vaccines convened by UNAIDS, the United Nations' special program on AIDS, which replaced the GPA in 1994. While in Geneva, Mann was also supposed to help UNAIDS devise its future global strategy. In a press statement, UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot praised Mann as "a visionary global leader in the fight against AIDS" who "tirelessly promoted a response to the epidemic based on respect for human rights and human dignity." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland--an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which coordinates federally funded AIDS vaccine trials--told ScienceNOW that the deaths of Mann and Clements-Mann are "a double great loss to the HIV/AIDS effort." Mann was the dean of Allegheny University School of Public Health in Philadelphia.
Mann's career as a leader in the AIDS field was often marked by controversy. Appointed GPA's first director in 1986, he quit 4 years later, publicly accusing former WHO chief Hiroshi Nakajima of a lack of commitment to fighting the disease. And earlier this year, Mann drew fire from many of his colleagues after accusing the NIH of dragging its feet on AIDS vaccine research. But AIDS researchers say that Mann's sometimes brash outspokenness did not diminish his respect among his colleagues. "He said things that rattled some people," says Fauci. "But he did it to push a cause he believed in. He was the conscience of the field."