Decades before the COVID-19 pandemic, another emerging disease captured the attention of the world: acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. David B. Clifford ’71 was early in his medical career when the AIDS epidemic began, and he immediately recognized the urgency of the situation. He was particularly interested in the neurological complications of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and soon became an internationally respected pioneer in the field.


Clifford established the Neurologic AIDS Research Consortium, a National Institutes of Health-funded research group designed to develop improved therapy for neurological complications of AIDS, in 1993. He also served as the principal investigator of the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WashU Medicine) and as active investigator in the CNS HIV Antiretroviral Therapy Effects Research (CHARTER) study. He has led international research relevant to HIV and the nervous system in Ethiopia, Uganda, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, and Thailand. Today, as the Melba and Forest Seay Professor of Clinical Neuropharmacology in Neurology at WashU Medicine, Clifford continues to study and see patients for HIV-related neurological disorders, HIV-related dementia, peripheral neuropathy, and other conditions.


“David has always felt strongly about helping patients with very complicated conditions that other physicians are often not comfortable treating,” said Eugene H. Rubin, professor emeritus at WashU Medicine. “Many of these conditions are eventually lethal, and individuals with these conditions require time and compassion in addition to medical expertise. David devotes the time and energy to help these folks.”


Mengesha Teshome, assistant professor of neurology at WashU Medicine, has been helping Clifford with his research for two decades. Teshome was dean of the medical school at Jimma University in Ethiopia when he first heard Clifford speak at an international conference on HIV/AIDS in 2002.


“This was a time of devastation, frustration, and hopelessness in the healthcare field in Ethiopia due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” Teshome said. “After listening to these amazing people talk, I saw a glimmer of hope. This hope assured me that we can fight this pandemic, we are not alone, and there are good humanitarians like David Clifford who will stand by our side. There is hope that we might even win this war.”


Clifford has received several honors and awards throughout his career. In addition to being named an honorary professor of neurology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, he has received WashU Medicine’s Samuel R. Goldstein Distinguished Faculty Leadership Award in Medical Student Education and the Distinguished Service Teaching Award. He also has been nominated for the Association of American Medical Colleges’s Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award.

“David epitomizes the Yiddish word ‘mensch,’ a person of integrity and honor,” said David Holtzman, Barbara Burton and Reuben M. Morriss III Distinguished Professor at WashU Medicine. “Whether David is teaching medical students, residents, and fellows or interacting with close colleagues or seeing patients with neurological disorders, he is always thoughtful, passionate, and empathetic.”


Dori Hudson ’71 became friends with Clifford and his wife, Judith Campbell Clifford ’71, at Southwestern. When she recently developed a tremor in her hand, Clifford suggested she come see him.


“As a hospital chaplain, I have met and observed many doctors, but none has the caring demeanor of David,” Hudson said. “He asked questions and listened carefully to my story. He was very kind and gentle and assuring. Later I told Judy that I had never had a doctor with such a caring bedside manner. She laughed and said, ‘David is a pastor with a stethoscope around his neck.’ I think that sums it up.”


For his outstanding contributions to his field and commitment to the well-being of humanity, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor David Clifford with the Distinguished Humanitarian Award.