In 1983, Dr. Seldin convinced UT Southwestern graduate Robert Haley, MD, to return to Dallas to found the Division of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine.

Epidemiologists study the relationship between medical conditions and their causes by collecting and analyzing data about public health and the behavior of disease. By determining how and why diseases and illnesses occur, epidemiologists are able to help prevent their spread and recurrence.

Haley had worked as a resident at Parkland before leaving for Atlanta to work at the CDC, where he produced a pioneering, 10-year study on the control of hospital-acquired infections.

His ideas were implemented by the CDC and helped set the standards for hospitals across the country.

When the first AIDS cases were reported in the 1980s, no one knew what was causing the disease or how it was being transmitted, let alone how to prevent or treat it.

From the outset, AIDS patients were stigmatized and attracted a high level of discrimination. Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor came forward to help focus the country on the human tragedy of the growing epidemic.

During this period, funding for AIDS research was not directed to the medical center. Nevertheless, in 1989 Dr. Haley, working with local health organizations, put together the first household survey covering relevant issues such as sexual behavior.

It was highly controversial.

“Our teams went door-to-door and took blood samples to measure how many people might already have the latent infection,” Haley explained. 

Follow-up meetings with the Dallas County Health Department produced the AIDS Prevention Program. With the results of the blood test survey in hand, program members knew where in the community to focus. They made friends with those putting themselves at risk and educated them on the seriousness of the disease and its prevention.

“It was extremely effective and attracted funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other sources. As a result of this initiative, Dallas was the first major city in the country to turn the epidemic curve around,” Haley said.

A few years later, it appeared that federal funding for the AIDS Prevention Program might be cut. After a series of meetings that brought The League of Women Voters, The Women’s Council of Dallas and The Dallas County Medical Society together with the medical school, the AIDS Prevention Program was placed under the UT Southwestern School of Health Professions. It was renamed the Community Prevention and Intervention Unit (CPIU) and, as a result, was able to retain its federal grants.

It has functioned ever since as one of the finest AIDS prevention programs in the country with continuous funding from the CDC.

Dr. Robert Haley