Helene Doris Gayle

Helene Doris Gayle (born 1955) is an AIDS researcher and epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia.

Helene Doris Gayle is a specialist in the epidemiology of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in children and teenagers. She is the coordinator of the AIDS Agency and chief of the HIV/AIDS Division at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of Health. In her position she has travelled to Africa and Asia to investigate the ways the disease affects different societies and to help coordinate international efforts to study it.

Born the third of five children on August 16, 1955, in Buffalo, New York. Her father, Jacob Sr., was an entrepreneur and her mother, Marietta, was a psychiatric social worker. Gayle was influenced by her parents from an early age, for her parents impressed upon their children the importance of making a contribution to the world. Gayle was also affected by growing up during the Civil Rights movement, and served as head of the African American student union in her high school.

Gayle pursued a bachelor of arts degree in psychology in 1976 at Barnard University, followed by a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981. Medical school opened the door for Gayle to the "social and political aspects of medicine," she told Ebony writer Renee D. Turner. After hearing a noted researcher speak on the efforts to eradicate the deadly smallpox virus, Gayle decided to seek a masters of public health, which she received from Johns Hopkins University in 1981. She then began a residency and internship in pediatrics at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where she worked for three years.

In 1984, Gayle was accepted to the epidemiology training program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, where she focused on the AIDS virus. She held various positions at the CDC, concentrating her efforts on the effect of AIDS on children, adolescents and their families, both in the United States and worldwide. Gayle has found that the U.S. African American community, especially its women, is at high risk of contracting the fatal disease. In the late 1980s, African American women made up 52 percent of the female AIDS population nationwide even though they only constituted 11 percent of the entire population. Gayle is an advocate for education as an important tool for the prevention of HIV/AIDS; as she told Turner, "Learning more about the spread of the disease also will provide some ammunition" in combating it. Gayle has traveled extensively studying the risk factors which contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS in her position with the AIDS division for the Agency for International Development. The author of many articles and studies on HIV/AIDS risk factors, Gayle has received numerous awards, including the Henrietta and Jacob Lowenburg Prize, the Gordon Miller Award, and the U.S. Public Health Service achievement medal. She taught at various universities and is on the editorial board of the Annual Review of Public Health. Gayle is unmarried and has no children. As she told Turner, "I don't regret having placed a high priority on a career that enables me to make a contribution to mankind." Besides, she added, "we have no choice but to try to make an impact."


Further Reading on Helene Doris Gayle

Burgess, Marjorie, "Helene D. Gayle," in Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 3, Gale, 1993, pp. 74-76.

Black Enterprise, October, 1988.

Turner, Renee D., "The Global AIDS Warrior," in Ebony