“I’ve been doing this since the very beginning,” Cohen says. “I came to Chapel Hill in 1980, and the first cases of HIV in Chapel Hill were in 1981. We had a fairly large epidemic of HIV in North Carolina that the health care providers and the University helped to manage.”
Cohen is UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Health and director of the Center for Infectious Diseases.
The North Carolina Award is the state’s highest civilian award and was given to five other people along with Cohen. This came one day after Dean Smith was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest national civilian honor.
Cohen is an infectious disease specialist and says he works with a large group of people across the nation.
“Working to understand the transmission of the virus HIV, and, most importantly, developing strategies to prevent the transmission of HIV,” Cohen says.
Cohen says the study of HIV/AIDS has come a long way in his more than three decades of work on the disease.
“There’s no organism better studied than HIV, and there’s incredible discoveries along the way that have taken this once universally-fatal infection, and, now-a-days, this infection is detected early and (if) people receive the proper treatment, they live a normal, healthy lifespan,” Cohen says. “So it’s a quite remarkable journey over 33 years.”
Cohen was presented the North Carolina Award by Governor Pat McCrory Thursday in Durham. The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources administers the awards.
Cohen received the award in the science division. He was joined this year by Asheville’s John E. Cram in fine arts, Davidson College graduate John M. H. Hart, Jr. in literature, and legislator Phillip J. Kirk Jr., education administrator John Harding Lucas, and internationally acclaimed linguist Walt Wolfram in public service.