Gateway to care: Fighting social stigma and barriers, doctor seeks to prevent HIV infections worldwide.

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In 1978, during the infancy of the AIDS epidemic, reports about isolated cases of gay men suffering from a rare lung infection and an aggressive cancer began trickling in to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That same year, Rupa Patel was born in the Midwest to immigrants from rural Indian villages. While her parents worked long hours in medicine and business, Patel became family mama-bear, a persistent protector helping her non-English speaking, illiterate grandmother as well as her little brother — who never quite fit in — navigate life in white suburban Michigan.

By the time Patel earned a medical degree in 2004, her brother had acknowledged he was gay, and she had discovered a passion for treating people who were emotionally vulnerable, socioeconomically disadvantaged and at risk for contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.

For Patel, MD, MPH, Washington University School of Medicine — with its international reputation for developing HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment therapies — beckoned. She arrived on campus in 2013 as an instructor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases.