1933-01-06

JOSEPH SONNABEND is an Afrikaans physician, scientist and HIV/AIDS researcher, notable for pioneering community-based research, the propagation of safe sex to prevent infection, and an early multifactorial model of AIDS.

As one of the first physicians to notice among his gay male patients the immune deficiency that would later be named AIDS, during the 1980s and 1990s he treated many hundreds of HIV-positive people. During the height of the AIDS crisis, Sonnabend helped create several AIDS organisations, including the AIDS MEdical Foundation (now amfAR), the nonprofit Community Research Initiative (now ACRIA), which pioneered community-based research, and the PWA Health Group, the first and largest formally recognized buyers’ club.

Sonnabend became controversial for maintaining his view that HIV was not the sole cause of AIDS over a decade after the virus’s discovery but he is widely respected as a pioneering and compassionate clinician and researcher.

Sonnabend was one of the first physicians to notice among his gay male patients the immune deficiency that would later be named AIDS. His background in microbiology, virology, infectious diseases and prior experience of working with immunocompromised transplant patients helped him to conduct some of the earliest research into AIDS, independently of government agencies that were slow to react and often at his own expense, and in 1983 he was founding editor one of the first AIDS journals, AIDS Research (renamed AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses in 1986, after Sonnabend was fired from the journal).

While he fathered three daughters with three different women, Sonnabend nevertheless openly identified as a gay man.