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UW professor earns global health award for work in STD field

Dr. Holmes

Dr. Holmes -

Dr. Holmes talks about being selected for this year's Canada Gairdner Global Health Award for his research on HIV and STD studies.

Photo by Jessie Kim

Dr. King K. Holmes, UW professor and longtime leader in the field of global health, recently received the 2013 Canada Gairdner Global Health Award for more than 40 years of work toward STD research, treatment, and prevention. This award is given to one recipient each year whose advances have, or will potentially have, a significant impact on health outcomes in the developing world.

Holmes is now the 10th UW faculty member to receive a Canada Gairdner Award.

“I’ve been feeling elated by the award for a long time since I’ve learned about it,” Holmes said.

He plans to donate the prize money, $100,000 CAD, to the UW.

Holmes’ journey in the global health field began during his time in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He worked with sex workers in the Philippines and other parts of Asia to assess treatment failures for gonorrhea and possible solutions.

After his time in the Navy, he was attracted to the University of Washington for its impressive infectious-disease training program, and began working at the UW in 1967. 

More than two decades later, he and a colleague from the Navy decided to form a center for AIDS and STDs in 1989.

“There had been so many people working on sexually transmitted disease research [at the UW] … that it had become one of the world centers for that,” he said. “When HIV/AIDS came along as another sexually transmitted disease, it was a natural thing to take that problem on quickly.”

Since then, Holmes’ participation in the global health field has been even more far reaching. Aside from founding and directing the UW Center for AIDS and STDs, he also currently teaches as a professor at the UW, serves as chair of the Department of Global Health, and heads the Infectious Diseases section at Harborview Medical Center. 

He also works as the principal investigator of UW’s I-TECH program, the International Training and Education Center for Health, for which he travels frequently.

Despite his numerous contributions to the field of global health, Holmes remains humble about his role and contributions to this cause.

“[The award] recognizes work that’s been done here at the University of Washington by literally over 100 pre- and post-doctoral trainees and by a huge number of faculty,” he said. “I owe a lot to the University and to the faculty and the students here.”

His affinity for working with others is also reflected in his love for mentorship, as Holmes has mentored more than 100 trainees in the field of HIV and STD studies.

“[I am most proud of] the accomplishments of my mentees, who have finished their work here, and gone on to even bigger and better things elsewhere,” he said. “I think that mentoring is the most enjoyable part of being a faculty member. It really is a privilege.”

Mary Fielder, his former assistant, had only good things to say about Holmes’ professionalism and character.

“He’s as comfortable in a boardroom setting as he is at the bedside of an HIV patient in Uganda, and he walks both worlds very carefully,” she said. “He loves to have a good time, and he basically finds joy in everything he does.”

Bobbi Nodell, communications manager at UW Department of Global Health, said his leading style motivates the people around him to work hard.

“I’ve worked all-nighters for him on grants, but because it’s for him, I’m happy to do it,” he said. “He has a way of managing that really inspires you, and is very appreciative, and you feel like you’re helping his cause.”

Amid his busy seven-day workweek, Holmes rarely has time to just relax.

“My biggest problem is not that I have too much work, but that I don’t have enough time to do the work I want to do,” he said. “[But] the work continues. I hope to be able to keep doing it for a long time.”

Reach reporter Shirley Qiu at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @callmeshirleyq

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