‘He was committed to mankind’

Professor David Cooper with daughters Ilana and Becky dressed as pills fighting HIV for the 1999 Mardi Gras.

A DEDICATED doctor on the world stage, Professor David Cooper saved countless lives through his research into HIV, but sadly lost his own life to a short illness last Sunday.

The Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) initiated revolutionary, collaborative infectious disease research, giving Australia a prominent global presence in the treatment and prevention of the illness.

“Australia has been the leading nation in the control of HIV/AIDS and it is almost entirely due to him,” close friend Professor David Sonnabend told The AJN, noting Cooper’s presidency of the International AIDS Society for a number of years, and his work in coordinating drug trials throughout Asia and Africa.

Cooper was the inaugural director of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at St Vincent’s Hospital, which became the Kirby Institute at UNSW. Associate Professor Anthony Schembri, CEO of St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney, commented, “As a young social worker in HIV at St Vincent’s, I had the opportunity of working alongside David … The reverence his patients and his clinical peers held for him was extraordinary.”

Touching on Cooper’s personal attributes, Sonnabend described his friend as “quiet, modest, unassuming and a good person”, adding that he was adored by the AIDS community because of his understanding, compassion and sympathy.

“He was committed to mankind,” said Sonnabend. “One of the remarkable things about David was that despite his immense intellect or abilities, he never sought the limelight himself … He collected around him a group of the most extraordinarily talented people, all of whose careers he fostered.”

Another friend, Professor John Ziegler, echoed the sentiment, commenting, “David was super bright but such an all-round person. He was cultured, generous and insightful, but very modest.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said, “In an ABC interview in 2015 Professor Cooper said his Jewish background helped him to empathise with his patients.” Cooper’s involvement in the community included serving at one time as vice-president of Moriah College.

Alhadeff also commented on Cooper’s groundbreaking work, stating, “He threw himself into the crisis sweeping Sydney’s gay community in the 1980s, recruiting young men in a study which led to a pivotal paper in The Lancet. He strove not only to treat the disease, but also to destigmatise its victims, participating in Mardi Gras parades with his daughters dressed as pills fighting the virus.”