Collection ID: M-0232

Collection context


Merson, Michael H.
Material created and collected by Michael Merson, documenting his leadership at the World Health Organization's Global Programme on AIDS (GPA). The bulk consists of copies of WHO correspondence, reports, meeting minutes, speeches, press releases, publications and other printed material, in addition to interview transcripts and sound recordings conducted by Merson for the use in book, The AIDS pandemic: searching for a global response (2018), co-authored with Stephen Inrig.
34 boxes and 12.6 cubic feet
Preferred citation:

Michael Merson Collection on the Global AIDS Response, Archives and Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library.


Scope and Content:

Copies of WHO and GPA administration records, memoranda, fax cover sheets, progress reports, travel reports, organizational charts, registry files, facsimiles, printed-out emails, speeches, appointment books, and publications. GPA publications include National AIDS Programme Management training course books and Guidelines for the clinical management of HIV infection. Also contains non-WHO materials such as articles and press clippings, academic papers, journal articles, presentations, press clippings, speeches, interview transcripts and sound recordings on cassette tapes.

Biographical / Historical:

Michael Merson, a leader in global health policy, was born June 7, 1945 in New York City to Leo and Paula Enid (formerly Katz) Merson. He received his medical education at SUNY Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn in New York City (M.D. 1970), followed by residencies at Johns Hopkins Hospital (1971-1972) and the Centers for Disease Control (1974-1975). Merson began his professional career at the CDC within the Enteric Diseases Branch, Bacterial Diseases Division (1972-1975) and Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka, Bangladesh (1977-1978). During this time, he also held fellowships in infectious diseases at Beth-Israel Children’s Hospital Program, Harvard (1975-1976) and John Hopkins University (1976-1977). He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College (B.A. 1966).

Following his work with the CDC in Bangladesh, Merson worked in the Diarrhoeal Diseases Control Program at the World Health Organization (WHO). He went on to serve as Director for that program (January 1984) and the Acute Respiratory Infections Control Programme (August 1987-May 1990). In May 1990, Merson was appointed Director (1990-1995) of the WHO’s Global Programme on AIDS (GPA) after the resignation of its founder and first director, Jonathan Mann.

First detected in 1981 in the United States, the rate of HIV infection had escalated to epidemic levels by the mid-1980s, necessitating a global AIDS strategy. The creation of a global AIDS program within WHO was approved during the 39th World Health Assembly held in May 1986. The WHO’s Special Programme on AIDS was then formed in February 1987 to coordinate an international response to the spread of HIV/AIDS infection throughout the world. Merson served as Executive Director of GPA until March 1995.

Under the WHO leadership of Hiroshi Nakajima, Merson oversaw work previously underway in the reorganization of the GPA and regionalization of WHO duties. As the point person to the worldwide coordination of scientists, public health administrators, and physicians, his work involved the evaluation of budgetary needs for GPA and donor nations while navigating the political nature of HIV/AIDS. During his term, the GPA Management Committee (GMC)--responsible for the production of a biennial report to summarize international HIV/AIDS-related activities--established a Task Force on HIV/AIDS Coordination in November 1992. This resulted in the development of the HIV/AIDS Development Information Exchange (HADIX) database, in addition to the Register of HIV/AIDS Activities.

According to Merson, a GPA oversight body decided to end their operation after an external review. The Global Programme on AIDS ended December 31, 1995, ceding the coordination of this work to other UN agencies. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was formed in 1996 and now includes the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); WHO; and the World Bank. UNAIDS continues this work at the time of the writing of this finding aid.

After leaving his position at WHO, Merson accepted faculty appointments at Yale University’s School of Medicine. Soon after, he began research on a history of the international response to the AIDS pandemic, specifically, WHO’s Global Programme in AIDS, and conducted interviews with his past colleagues. His research also relied on WHO document searches and requests. The resulting book, The AIDS pandemic: searching for a global response was coauthored with medical historian Stephen Inrig and published in 2017 by Springer.

Merson was named Wolfgang Jokik Professor of Global Health in July 2008 at Duke University, Vice Chancellor at Duke-National University of Singapore School of Medicine (2010-2016) and Director of Duke Global Health Institute (2006-2017). He has sat on the editorial boards for AIDS Journal (1993-1996) Epidemiologic reviews (2009-2011), Global Public Health journal (2005- ), and Annals of Global Health (2014- ). He received the Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medal in May 1993, among many other awards relating to his leadership in public health.

Acquisition information:
Gift of Michael Merson, May 2019 (accession #2019.010).
Processing information:

Rehoused into new folders and boxes. Original folder titles retained unless revised for clarity and ease of searching. Folders alphabetized within series. Sticky adhesive notes were removed and discarded unless containing information. Title pages and table of contents for copies of books and chapters were retained but additional pages were discarded.


Arranged into seven series: I. AIDS Book, 1986-2016; II. National AIDS Programs, 1986-2009; III. Research topics, 1987-2014; IV. Global Programme on AIDS (GPA), 1981-2016; V. UNAIDS Formation, 1987-2009; VI. Publications, 1988-2002; VII. Interviews, 2001-2005, 2019. Series IV is further arranged into four subseries: 4.1. General, 1983-2016; 4.2. WHO GPA Formation, 1981-2008; 4.3. Donors, Non-Governmental Organizations, and Industry, 1986-2013; 4.4. Management Groups, 1986-2002.

Physical / technical requirements:

Access to interview sound recording requires digital transfer of original cassette tapes.

Access to digital content requires the use of reading room computer and/or software and hardware that is compatible with .wav files.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: a Content Standard



Open for research.


Columbia University does not hold copyright for this collection. Requests to access sound recordings on audiotapes must be done in advance. Users may not modify, rearrange, edit, or make copies of digital or print records without permission from staff.


Michael Merson Collection on the Global AIDS Response, Archives and Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library.

630 West 168th Street
New York, NY 10032, United States