Why We Do What We Do: Kaveh Khoshnood

Kaveh entered Loyola College on a premed track, but his father, a doctor in Iran, noticed his son’s interest in social sciences and encouraged him to explore a career in public health. Kaveh began his M.P.H. at Yale in 1987 when the AIDS epidemic was news around the world. After volunteering for AIDS Project New Haven, Kaveh teamed up with Jon Parker, a former drug user, who led many radical AIDS prevention efforts in New Haven – including distributing clean needle to drug users – at that time considered an act of civil disobedience. Parker later became a Yale School of Public Health graduate. “Parker connected with people at a human level. It was an unorthodox approach that was very different than what I was learning in school,” explains Kaveh.

When asked to relay a moment in which he felt his work had made a difference, Kaveh recalls a talk he gave a few years ago. “A man came up to me after a speaking engagement and asked if I remembered him — he said he was “Bugs Bunny.’” This was a pseudonym used by one of the drug users to whom Kaveh gave clean needles more than 20 years ago. “Then I remembered him clearly because after he picked up new needles and got back in his car he always buckled his seatbelt. I was always told that drug users were careless with their lives and it was hopeless to help them, so this act of caution always stuck with me.” The man had come up to Kaveh to thank him for all he had done and told him that the needle exchange program had saved his life.

In July, Kaveh enthusiastically attended the first International AIDS conference held in the U.S. since 1990. He reflected on the meeting as monumental as it is a response to President Obama repealing the policy that banned people with HIV from entering the U.S. Along with numerous positions in AIDS organizations, Kaveh is a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, where he encourages students to examine current approaches to the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

Nina Gumkowski, GHLI Staff

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