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Responding to AIDS - Home   |    About this Exhibit - Introduction   |    AIDS Emerges   |    Poised to Respond   |    New Programs: Working Together   |    Responding to Fear   |    The AIDS Prevention Project   |    A Leader in Research, Education, and Housing
   |    Expanding Outreach   |    Needle Exchanges   |    The AIDS Omnibus Act: New Mandates   |    Safer Sex: The New Normal?   |    The Legacy   |    Gallery   |    Oral Histories    |    References and Resources

The AIDS Prevention Project

Scientific progress: HIV Testing

In 1984, scientists discovered the HIV virus, the cause of AIDS, and developed an experimental antibody test. The test was offered by the AIDS Assessment Clinic and the Seattle Gay Clinic. The Puget Sound Blood Center, in conjunction with the Public Health Department, became a leader in developing blood screening policies.

Controversy around testing

When the HIV test became available, medical treatment was limited. People debated testing’s potential benefits and risks.

Ann Downer, AIDS Prevention Project Health Educator. (Oral history interview, 2015.)

Tim Burak, AIDS Prevention Project Coordinator, discusses community concerns over testing in the early years. (Oral history interview, June 2015.)

Hunter Handsfield, Seattle-King County STD Program Director (1978-2005), on Public Health services to AIDS patients before effective treatment was available. (Oral history interview, August 2015.)

Robert Wood, AIDS Prevention Project Medical Director. (Oral history interview, August 2015.)


Clipping from The Seattle Gay News, 1986 . Series 1825 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program. [1825-1-11]. Click on the thumbnail to read the whole article.

Federal funding

The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), impressed with both Seattle-King County’s ability to obtain local public funding for AIDS work and its collaboration with community groups, awarded the Public Health Department one of the first AIDS Prevention Demonstration Project Grants in the United States, along with Dallas, Denver, Long Beach and New York.

The grant of $365,000 developed model programs: AIDS education for the general public and prevention and control projects among one of the groups of King County citizens at highest risk: men who had sex with men (by far the largest group.) The grant also provided coordination and support for community-based AIDS services, such as the medical resources program of the Northwest AIDS Foundation. A second CDC grant of $70,000 funded epidemiological work.

The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health had made the decision to assume the lead role in applying for and allocating outside funding for local programs. External funding for surveillance, prevention, public education, and support for persons with AIDS would all come through Public Health, with partner organizations as subcontractors. Public Health’s leadership assured that there were no conflicting proposals nor duplication of services.

The grant allowed the Public Health Department to expand its AIDS Program into a more consolidated and independent unit: the AIDS Prevention Project (APP).

The project originally had a staff of thirteen: a medical director, a project coordinator, an epidemiologist, a health educator, two information/outreach specialists, two nurse-practitioners, two health advisors (counselors), and a front office staff of three.


Photos from the AIDS Prevention Project’s open house at its new location on First Hill at the corner of Summit and Seneca.

Dr. Robert Wood (known affectionately as “Dr. Bob”) was hired as Medical Director for the APP, where he served as until his retirement in 2010. Here he discusses his professional and personal background. (Oral history interview, August 2015.)


Flier advertising the APP's new location and extended hours.

Tim Burak talks about finding a location for the program. (Oral history interview, July 2015.)

APP staff formed a close-knit unit. In addition to the daily challenge of assessing, testing, and counseling people who might be diagnosed with AIDS or found to be HIV positive, over the years, some staff members, community partners, and friends would also become ill with AIDS and pass away.

Ann Downer reflects on what it was like working in the APP before treatment was available. (Oral history interview, August 2015.)


AIDS Prevention Project staff on retreat in 1988. From Series 1825, Box 10, Item 24.


In 1992 the APP moved to a new location in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new space, above from left to right are pictured APP Medical Director Dr. Robert Wood, Public Health Department Director David Lurie, an unidentified person, and King County Executive Tim Hill.

Next: Leader in Research

Responding to AIDS

An exhibit and oral history project from the King County Archives.

Content warning: The archival records featured in this exhibit discuss sexual behavior and illegal drug use. Please direct questions or comments to

Copyright King County Archives, Seattle Washington, June 2016.




Please note: This exhibit features historical materials relating to HIV/AIDS. For current health information, please visit Public Health, Seattle & King County - HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention and Education.



Oral histories produced with support from a 2015 4Culture Heritage Projects Grant.