Christopher J. Hoffmann, MD, MPH; January 25, 2021
Dr. John G. Bartlett (fondly referred to as “JB”), a giant in the worlds of medicine, infectious diseases, and HIV, passed away on January 19, 2021. JB discovered, innovated, and taught at every opportunity. He shared his love of medicine and his compassion in many ways, and HIV care was just one of JB’s innumerable and remarkable contributions.
JB’s work in HIV started soon after he came to Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1980 as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases. Once the HIV epidemic took hold, it ravaged the urban neighborhoods around Johns Hopkins, as it did in so many other metropolitan areas. In response, JB wanted to offer outpatient care for the generally poor, Black, and uninsured people contracting this new, fatal, and highly stigmatized disease, so he surreptitiously started a clinic in an unused space in the basement of Johns Hopkins Hospital. A year later, as JB recalled, the Department of Medicine Chairman asked whether he had heard of AIDS and suggested that Hopkins do something about it. JB then revealed his secret clinic and built support from the administration for both the clinic and an inpatient HIV service.
At the time, those caring for people with HIV shared the limited knowledge of what could work to palliate this disease however they could—at conferences and through journal publications. In the face of a devastating disease with quickly evolving knowledge, peer-reviewed publication moved way too slowly for JB, who sought ways to update clinicians around the world as quickly as possible. In 1994, he began writing his book Medical Management of HIV Infection, which he updated annually for close to 20 years. He started a local newsletter for the National Institutes of Health AIDS Clinical Trials Group that grew into the international Hopkins HIV Report, and under his leadership, the Johns Hopkins AIDS Service website was launched to deliver rich, up-to-date content globally in 1997. In 1996, JB and Dr. Anthony Fauci began their work as co-chairs of the Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents to develop and disseminate national treatment guidance.
In 1999, JB was granted the contract for developing and disseminating the guidelines of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute clinical guidelines program, which was launched in the mid-1980s as the first HIV guidelines program in the world. JB brought his prestige, insight, and collegiality to this fledgling operation and helped shape it into a respected and trusted source of practical and effective HIV clinical guidance. In 2014, the AIDS Institute presented the Linda Laubenstein Award to the guidelines program to recognize its development of clinical guidelines that address the care and treatment of people with HIV in New York State and provide a framework for excellence in the clinical care of people living with HIV. This program, which has grown and thrived for more than 20 years in the Johns Hopkins University Division of Infectious Diseases, was just one of the innumerable initiatives and projects that JB wholeheartedly embraced.
To all of his work, JB brought an encyclopedic and up-to-the-minute knowledge of medicine, joy in sharing his knowledge, seemingly boundless energy (he was famous for starting his workday at 3 AM), and a nurturing spirit that all around him appreciated.
I sought to and completed my medicine and infectious diseases training at Johns Hopkins University because of the stellar program built by JB and specifically because of his eminence in the world of HIV. I had the privilege of providing care on the HIV service when JB was attending, first in 2003, and always treasured his immense knowledge and infectious joie de vivre. I sought his guidance throughout the time I worked with him at Johns Hopkins and even after he retired. In 2014, when JB asked me to carry on the work he started with the AIDS Institute’s HIV clinical guidelines program, I felt honored and remain glad to lead this important project at Hopkins and make contributions that extend Dr. John Bartlett’s legacy of ensuring that people with HIV receive informed and compassionate care.