amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Awards of Courage

Sister Mary Elisabeth, OSM

Honoring with Pride 2003 Honoree


Sister Mary Elisabeth, OSMSister Mary Elizabeth knew when she was eight years old that she wanted to be a nun. That early focus eventually led her to create the AIDS Education Global Information System (AEGiS). In addition to providing a vast database, or “knowledgebase,” of news and information about the history, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDS, AEGiS is also an online bulletin board system that enables people affected by HIV/AIDS to connect with each other.

Sister Mary Elizabeth launched AEGiS in 1990 after a stay in a small Midwest farm community where she met several people living with AIDS. They were profoundly isolated by their illness, by parochial fear and ignorance about HIV/AIDS, and by geography. In their need, she saw a way to put her technical skills to a spiritual use by making HIV/AIDS information and other online resources easily accessible. Since then, she has made the website her life’s work, building AEGiS into a service the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called “the best of its kind.”

AEGiS is first and foremost a library of current treatment information, changing daily to keep pace with medical and scientific advances. Searchable by keyword, AEGiS offers cutting-edge information from HIV/AIDS publications, news sources, and reference materials from around the world. AEGiS is also an archive documenting the history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In addition, AEGiS utilizes an e-mail listserv to reach people who lack worldwide web access. This exchange of information is vital to a successful fight against the epidemic, according to AEGiS’ mission statement: “We believe the answer will be found in the transformation of information into knowledge. For that to happen, information must be easily accessible and widely disseminated. It must be used.” Prior to transitioning to the Internet, AEGiS was the cornerstone of a global electronic network of bulletin boards that linked more than 130 electronic bulletin boards in 40 countries.

AEGiS, which has won nearly 40 awards, links dedicated AIDS websites from around the world, overcoming cultural, geographic, and economic barriers and encouraging communities to work together. As Sister Mary Elizabeth eloquently says: “I want people to remember that we are all human. That we all share responsibility in this world for each other. There is only one race, the human race.”