Kristine Gebbie, a health policy expert who served as the country’s first AIDS Czar in the early 1990s, died May 17 in Adelaide, Australia. She was 78.
The cause was cancer, her daughter Eileen Gebbie said.
After serving as Chief Health Officer for the states of Oregon and Washington and as a member of two national panels formed by President Ronald Reagan, who sought to address the emerging AIDS epidemic, Dr. Gebbie, a nurse recruited by President Bill Clinton in June 1993 to fulfill his campaign promise to make the disease a public health priority.
He appointed her as the National AIDS Policy Coordinator to devise prevention strategies, provide resources for states and communities to build their own programs, and reconcile the efforts of federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Service and the National Institutes of Health.
Several more prominent candidates had already turned down the job, and Dr. Gebbie accepted it without illusions. Although the appointment made her a member of the President’s Council for Domestic Policy, her office never achieved the stature or effectiveness AIDS activists had hoped for.
“It leads you to just about every complicated human question you face,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1993. “What does human sexuality mean? What is the balance point between the rights and responsibilities of an individual and the rights and responsibilities of a community? What is our responsibility to people at the end of life? At what point do we accept the reality of death and don’t we fight it with everything we have?”
She preferred to provide clean needles to drug addicts, distribute condoms to sexually active teens, and include AIDS education in the health program, even for young children. Many conservatives opposed those views, just as they had opposed her earlier criticism of the Reagan administration’s proposal to routinely test marriage license applicants, federal prisoners and certain other groups.
“You don’t talk to them about safe sex,” said Dr. Gebbie, “but you teach them that their bodies are something to take care of, and that viruses can mess it up.”
Federal spending on AIDS increased under Dr. Gebbie, and her nomination was announced at a Rose Garden ceremony, but she didn’t work from the White House; her office was in a building across the street that also housed a McDonald’s.
“My guess,” she told DailyExpertNews in 1993, “is that my choice makes it clear that this isn’t about being someone who spends all of their time outside waking people up, but someone who is willing to took a lot of time to get it to work.
“It’s very clear how many people really expected miracles,” she added. “When I give answers that I know are appropriate answers, I know I sound like a bureaucratic stick in the mud: ‘This lady isn’t worth a cent to us; she talks about coordination and cooperation. Blah!’
“But part of my mission,” continued Dr. Gebbie, “is to help people keep their expectations within reality.”
Several AIDS activist organizations demanded that she be replaced, and she didn’t last long; she resigned after 13 months, in July 1994.
During the tenure of Dr. Gebbie said in a statement to President Clinton at the time that the federal government had increased funding and other resources “for prevention and research, accelerated the research and approval process for new drugs, and that every federal employee should receive comprehensive on-the-job training.” He thanked her for “giving this all-important fight a lift when it was desperately needed and long overdue”.
Kristine Elizabeth Moore was born on June 26, 1943, in Sioux City, Iowa, to Thomas Moore, a career officer in the military, and Irene (Stewart) Moore, who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
She moved from Panama to the Philippines to New Mexico when her father was transferred to the military; she was also raised for a while by her maternal grandparents in Miles City, Mont. She was inspired by an aunt, Susie Stewart, to enter nursing and worked as a high school nurse.
She received her bachelor of science degree in nursing from St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 1965, her master’s degree in mental health from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1968, and her doctorate in public health from the University of Michigan in 1995 .
She was the health administrator for the state of Oregon from 1978 to 1989 and the secretary of health in Washington from 1989 to 1993.
An epidemiologist and an authority on emergency preparedness, she served on the American Association of State and Territorial Health Officials’ AIDS Task Force and was later enlisted in Reagan’s White House AIDS Commission, though she criticized the response. of the Reagan administration on the epidemic as inadequate.
She was a professor of nursing at Columbia University School of Nursing and director of Columbia’s Center for Health Policy from 1994 to 2000. She was dean of the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing from 2008 to 2010.
She taught at Flinders University’s Torrens Resilience Initiative and the University of Adelaide Nursing School in Australia, where she had moved with her husband, Lester Nils Wright, a physician, and where they both retired. dr. Wright passed away last month.
Her first marriage, to Neil Gebbie, ended in divorce. In addition to her daughter Eileen, she leaves behind her children from her first marriage, Anna, Sharon and Eric Gebbie; her stepsons, Jason and Nathan Wright; her sister, Sina Ann; 10 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.