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This course will discuss HIV/AIDS in the US and around the world including its history, science, and culture as well as developments in behavioral and biomedical prevention, experimental AIDS vaccines, and clinical care issues. The course will also include a discussion of the populations that are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and a look at future challenges facing people infected and affected by the AIDS pandemic.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

Did you grow up in a world without red ribbons, AZT, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, or Project Red? If you did, chances are good that you came of age before 1981 and are a member of the last generation of humans on this planet to be able to say that you remember those ‘carefree days when all you had to worry about was getting pregnant, herpes, and a bad reputation’ (AID Atlanta).

On June 5, 1981 the CDC released a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing the first five cases of what later became known as the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. On that day human history broke into two generations: Those who can remember a time before the AIDS pandemic and those who can't.

No matter what generation you grew up in, what we all have in common is a curiosity about AIDS.  Where did it come from? Why is it so widespread?  Are we making progress towards a vaccine? What is it like to be part of a vaccine trial? Has anyone ever been cured of HIV infection? Are some people just naturally more or less susceptible to HIV than other people are?

All of this and more will be covered in AIDS. Over the course of nine weeks we will discuss a wide range of issues, innovations, and controversies regarding HIV/AIDS in the US and around the world including everything from what circumcision and Truvada have in common; how school children in Africa are changing the way AIDS education is done; where you can go online to learn how many cases of AIDS there are in your area; and how one man’s insistence that AIDS doesn't exist left hundreds of thousands of people without access to life saving drugs.

Course Syllabus

Week 1: HISTORY: Focusing on the origin of HIV, its initial discovery in humans, the early response to HIV (good, bad, and ugly), and its global spread since then.

Dr. Hagen: The Origin of HIV
Guest Lecture:
Dr. James W. Curran: The History of AIDS

Week 2: SCIENCE: Focusing on how the immune system works, what HIV does to disable the body’s ability to protect itself against everyday germs, and important scientific questions about HIV that are as yet unanswered.

Dr. Hagen: The Normal Immune System
Guest Lecture:
Dr. Eric Hunter: HIV's Effect on the Immune System

Week 3: BEHAVIORAL PREVENTION: Focusing on behavior change, culturally embedded HIV prevention and awareness messages, an exceptionally cost-effective way to reduce HIV transmission rates, and where to find information about prevention interventions of proven efficacy.

Dr. Hagen: Introduction; Theories of Behavior Change; The DEBI Project
Guest Lectures:
Dr. Kate Winskell: Scenarios from Africa / Global Dialogues
Dr. Susan Allen: Couples Voluntary Counseling and Testing

Week 4: BIOMEDICAL PREVENTION: Focusing on current research in biological ways to reduce transmission between mother and child, in the workplace, and among sero-discordant couples.

Dr. Hagen: Preventing MTCT; PEP; PrEP
Guest Lecture:
Dr. Carlos del Rio: TasP; Male Circumcision

Week 5: VULNERABLE POPULATIONS: Focusing on how HIV affects and is affected by political, cultural, sexual, biological, and gender-based factors.

Dr. Hagen: Social Determinants of 
Guest Lectures:
Dr. Claire Sterk: Women
Dr. Patrick Sullivan: Men who have Sex with Men
Dr. Rana Chakraborty: Children and Adolescents 
Dr. Anne Spaulding: Prisoners

Week 6: CLINICAL CARE ISSUES: Focusing on developments in HIV testing, the illnesses that people with HIV/AIDS are at risk from, and crucial issues that can affect the success of HIV treatment.

Dr. Hagen: HIV Testing; AIDS-defining and Opportunistic Infections
Guest Lecture:
Dr. Marcia Holstad: Health Literacy; Obstacles to Medication Adherence

Week 7: AIDS VACCINES: Focusing on an explanation of what vaccines are, the requirements for a successful HIV/AIDS vaccine, what is involved in being a volunteer in a clinical trial of an experimental AIDS vaccine, and a discussion of vaccine trial results to date.

Dr. Hagen: Vaccine History and Development
Guest Lecture:
Dr. Paula Frew: Participating in an Experimental AIDS Vaccine Trial

Week 8: FUTURE CHALLENGES: Focusing on key areas in the battle to successfully mitigate global suffering related to AIDS.

Dr. Hagen: The Economics of AIDS
Guest Lecture:
Dr. Vincent Marconi: Curing HIV
Dr. James Curran: The Next 30 Years

Week 9: RESPONDING TO HIV/AIDS: Focusing on how individuals, organizations, and societies have and are responding to the pandemic.

Dr. Hagen: On Being a Volunteer
Guest Lecture:
Dr. John Blevins: The History of AIDS Activism; Religion as a Social Force in HIV

Recommended Background

This course does not assume any prior knowledge of, or coursework in, HIV/AIDS. 

Suggested Readings

There will be readings in some weeks.  All readings will be made available free of charge.

Course Format

The course will consist of lectures, readings, and related assignments. Assignments will include generating lessons learned, taking quizzes and writing peer-evaluated essays.


  • What happens when I click “Sign Up?”

Clicking “Sign Up” will result in adding you to a listserv of people to be notified by email when the class is ready to run.

  • Will I get a certificate after completing this class?

Yes. Students who successfully complete all class assignments will receive a certificate signed by the instructor.

  • Do I earn Emory University credits upon completion of this class?

No. The certificate of completion is not transferable for course credit at Emory University. It is good, however, for demonstrating how much initiative and stick-to-a-tiveness you have (it is going to take time out of your life every week for more than two months after all). In addition, should anyone ever say: “Oh yeah? So what makes YOU an expert on HIV/AIDS?” you can always say: “THIS does!” and shake your certificate in their face. That should shut them up.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

Curiosity, an open mind, time to watch videos, a commitment to engage with your fellow students in discussions of the material, and a tolerance for the fact that the instructor tends to live by the motto: "Just because I take my science seriously doesn't mean I have to take myself seriously."

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

Yeah, right .... Like I'm going to give away the punch line before you enroll in the class.