Feature story

“No Time to Lose” an exceptional journey through global health

14 June 2012

The new book No Time to Lose by Peter Piot, the Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is garnering praise as a candid and passionate account of a lifetime pursuing and outsmarting deadly viruses.

Author Dr Piot, the former Executive Director of UNAIDS was a co-discoverer of the Ebola virus and a pioneer of the AIDS response.

“In a world where true discovery is rare, Peter’s experiences are beyond remarkable,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “And it is from this special vantage point that he takes us on a personal journey—that is equal part adventure thriller and political primer.”

Early in Dr Piot’s career, many tried to dissuade him from entering the field of infectious diseases. The people who did mentor him were often quirky and highly independent—and they set a tone of nurturing curiosity, questioning and not settling—that would serve the young doctor well.

Not yet 30, he vividly recalls a game-changing event in his life, “The unravelling of the first known epidemic of Ebola haemorrhagic fever in Africa was my initiation into scientific discovery, even life-threatening adventure, and into the world of what is now called global health. The AIDS epidemic forced me to confront the extreme complexity of health and disease and to learn the hard way the realities of big and small politics.”

His first international assignment took him to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to investigate the deadly outbreak. Dr Piot became known for combining community wisdom, local knowledge and behavioural aspects with bio-medical science to find health solutions—an unheard of combination at that time.

“Ebola showed dramatically that, in contrast to prevailing medical opinion in the 1960’s and ‘70s, the world would experience a seemingly never-ending series of new infectious disease epidemics,” writes Dr Piot—a premonition that would lead him to take on one of the greatest issues of our time—the AIDS epidemic.

Peter has been successful because he has always put people first. This was true when there were precious few resources and true when the millions of dollars for the AIDS response turned to billions

Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS

As the first Executive Director of UNAIDS he criss-crossed the world convincing global leaders to take on the AIDS epidemic while also working to bring the United Nations system together to support countries. Dr Piot has often said that while he was firmly established as a public health expert, he had to quickly grow into the role of politician. The book recounts how politics were played in the high stakes arena of development and global health.

The scientific nature that allowed him to make discoveries like Ebola also made him a tenacious and effective leader. He was fearless and pushed donors and national leaders to “do the right thing”.

“Peter has been successful because he has always put people first. This was true when there were precious few resources and true when the millions of dollars for the AIDS response turned to billions,” said Mr Sidibé. “He has been both mentor and friend and through his achievements, all of us have learned and benefited.”

His accomplishments have not come without regrets. Dr Piot writes in the epilogue about his last day at UNAIDS, that he was still “haunted by the question of what I could have done earlier and faster.”

Throughout his career Dr Piot has kept his sense of humour and appreciation for life intact. Whether it’s musing about mojitos with Fidel Castro in Cuba or paying his respects to Diago—a sake bar in Tokyo—his love of good food and wine and is apparent and will surely deliver a second book.

No Time to Lose will be launched in New York City at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, 18 June 2012.