Retiring UCSF Medical School Dean accepts U.N. HIV/AIDS commission post

By Wallace Ravven

Haile T. Debas, MD, retiring this summer as dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, has been appointed to a high-level U.N. commission formed this year to investigate the profound impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa and advise African policymakers.

The U.N. Commission for HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa will investigate the threats the epidemic poses to the stability of African governments and society, including economic development, the impact on agriculture and food supply, peace and security, and the consequences for women and the family. The Commission is expected to play an important advocacy and advisory role in helping African officials respond to the AIDS crisis, according to the office of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Debas, born in Asmara, Eritrea, has shown a strong commitment to applying the strengths of Western institutions to help improve the lives of people in developing countries. His conviction that UCSF’s expertise could be focused on easing major health problems in the developing world led to the establishment of the Institute for Global Health, co-founded by UCSF and UC Berkeley in 1999. After stepping down as dean, Debas will develop a new interdisciplinary program at UCSF to coordinate research and educational activities dealing with such international health issues as HIV/AIDS, TB and parasitic diseases such as malaria.

As dean of the UCSF School of Medicine since 1993, he has been recognized nationally for his leadership and passion for medical education. At UCSF, he has established a new clinical skills leaning center, five medical student advisory colleges and an Academy of Medical Educators to support and reward outstanding teachers. His strong interest in education led to a six-month leave of absence in 1999 to research plans to build a medical school in Eritrea that could serve as a model for medical training in the developing world.

Debas received his undergraduate training in Addis Ababa, and his medical degree from McGill University. He completed his surgical residency at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. His postdoctoral training included a year at the University of Glasgow and two years at UCLA.

After a year in private practice in the Yukon Territories and northern British Columbia, he served on the UBC surgery faculty from 1970 to 1980. Before being recruited as chair of surgery at UCSF in 1987, he served on the faculty of UCLA and University of Washington. He holds the Maurice Galante Distinguished Professorship of Surgery at UCSF.

Debas, who is also retiring as vice chancellor for medical affairs at UCSF, served as chancellor for one year in 1997-1998. During that year, he headed the planning process for the new UCSF Mission Bay campus, now in its first year of operation.

In 1990, Debas was elected to the Institute of Medicine, and he is one of only a few surgeons elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Debas, who steps down August 31, will be succeeded as dean of the UCSF School of Medicine by David A. Kessler, MD, dean of Yale School of Medicine and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.