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When Claudia Hawkins, medicine: infectious diseases, arrived in Zimbabwe for the first time, the reality of Africa’s AIDS epidemic was stark. The horror was quantifiable.

“So many in-patient admissions were AIDS related — up to 90 percent — that physicians didn’t even bother testing for the disease,” says Hawkins, of her mid-’90s medical student visit. “Even if a diagnosis could be confirmed, there were no real treatment options at that time. Some days, 60 patients would arrive, and by...