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Top AIDS Expert Quits S.F. General For VA Hospital

Paul Volberding has run pioneer clinic since 1983

David Perlman / SF Chronicle 25jan01

paul volberding va

Paul Volberding

San Francisco -- Dr. Paul A. Volberding, one of the world's foremost AIDS physicians and a pioneering researcher since the epidemic began, is moving on.

The director of the AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital since it opened in 1983 and an international leader in combatting the disease, Volberding has been named chief of the medical service at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

He will also become vice chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, Dr. Lee Goldman, the department's chairman, announced Tuesday. Goldman praised Volberding for "building the No. 1 AIDS program in the entire United States."

While the federal Department of Veterans Affairs operates the VA hospital, UC San Francisco is in charge of its medical services.

Volberding, 51, was a young cancer specialist when he joined the UCSF faculty at San Francisco General Hospital in 1981, just when the first cases of a strange new infectious disease were being recorded in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

Two years later, Volberding joined Dr. Donald Abrams, another cancer specialist, and the late Dr. Constance Wofsy, a specialist in infectious diseases, to start the nation's first program dedicated to treating what by then was recognized as a major new epidemic.

The three doctors treated the most severely ill patients in the hospital's old Ward 86 and opened the world's first AIDS outpatient clinic there, the clinic now known as the Positive Health Program.

Under Volberding's leadership, the clinic's doctors pioneered in studies of the drug AZT for patients without symptoms who tested positive for HIV, the AIDS virus. The clinic staff also studied new drugs against AIDS-related diseases such as Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumocystis carinii pneumonia.

As chief of medicine at the VA, Volberding's job will involve promoting more research and innovation, overseeing the teaching of young physicians and the quality of patient care and working with the staff's physicians to treat veterans with HIV infections and AIDS.

"I don't think I'll stop working in HIV leadership roles," he said Tuesday. "Like Clinton said, 'I may no longer be the president, but I'm still here!' It's impossible to walk away from the epidemic."

Volberding said he "wouldn't deny" that the mounting and severe budget problems at San Francisco General Hospital have been disturbing and frustrating, but he said those problems were not what made him accept the promotion to the VA job.

"It's an exciting challenge for me," he said, "because it allows me to stay closely involved with HIV and AIDS at the VA while building the program there and working on the problem with the entire national network of VA hospitals."

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com

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