Armenian-American health expert Jirair Ratevosian tapped for US State Department role

Jirair Ratevosian, MPH—an Armenian-American advocate for global health and human rights—has been appointed by President Joe Biden to serve in the State Department’s Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator and Global Health Diplomacy, The Armenian Weekly reports.

Ratevosian is taking on the role of senior advisor, where he will help oversee the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)—the leading, lifesaving program that has invested nearly $85 billion in the global HIV/AIDS response. 

“Working at PEPFAR is an opportunity to carry forward a lifetime mission of pursuing health equity and social justice,” read Ratevosian’s statement following his swearing-in at the US State Department on Monday morning.

“Thanks to US leadership and continued bipartisan support, tremendous progress has been made in the fight against AIDS, but the work is far from over.”

An experienced leader in domestic and global HIV diplomacy, Ratevosian has announced that he will be working on developing PEPFAR’s strategy, strengthening partnerships with US governmental agencies and supporting coordination efforts with bilateral and multilateral institutions, like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “I look forward to working with our country partners and stakeholder communities in service of President Biden and PEPFAR’s lifesaving mission,” he shared on Monday.

Ratevosian has always appreciated President Biden’s record on HIV/AIDS, and it’s clear the respect has been mutual.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Ratevosian was always interested in the field of healthcare. A son of immigrants from Lebanon and Armenia, he recalls growing up with his paternal grandfather—his namesake, a proud community organizer and small-business owner. At a young age, Ratevosian learned the importance of community engagement and ultimately adopted his grandfather’s spirit of activism.

Following his graduation from UCLA, Ratevosian went on an eye-opening trip to South Africa in 2004 just as the international community began concentrating its resources on HIV awareness, prevention and treatment. “The impact of the HIV epidemic was everywhere in South Africa,” recalled Ratevosian in his recent conversation with the Weekly. “That shaped the way I thought about my own role on the planet and what I wanted to do with my life and why I wanted to be involved in something that reduced human suffering. Public health was the pathway for me to do that.”

Since then, Ratevosian, a graduate of Boston University’s School of Public Health, has made HIV/AIDS a focal point of his 15-year career. He worked with US Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a notable champion in the fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and an original author of PEPFAR. During his three years on the Hill, Ratevosian witnessed a critical expansion to PEPFAR and the creation of a bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, which Congresswoman Lee co-chairs.

“Jirair’s deep experience, including his service as my Legislative Director, will be a tremendous asset to the Biden administration in strengthening PEPFAR and all our global health and development priorities,” stated Congresswoman Lee in her written comments to the Weekly. “Because of programs like PEPFAR, we have saved millions of lives across the globe, and I look forward to working with President Biden and Jirair and building from PEPFAR’s success to bring broader health security benefits for all.”

Before accepting his current position at the State Department, Ratevosian spent seven years at Gilead Sciences, leading an international team that developed public health solutions for hepatitis in Pakistan, Armenia, Egypt and Rwanda; he also led in building lasting partnerships for access to HIV medications for populations in South Africa.

As he takes on this new post at the State Department, Ratevosian told the Weekly he would like to see more Armenians join him in representing a more robust workforce in government and public service. “We all have a role to play in our future,” he underscored in his parting comments about global citizenship, diversity and inclusion, “I think more Armenians need to see public service as a viable career path that is rewarding and fulfilling and ultimately will help make the world a better place.”

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