With that crisis averted, life returned to normal for Piot. Then, a mysterious disease started appearing in San Francisco and New York in the early 1980s. By 1982, the disease had sprouted around the globe and carried an official name: AIDS.
Again Piot and his team sprang into action in Africa, establishing a safe blood supply, leading research initiatives and caring for the sick. Along the way, Piot survived a hijacking in Morocco and a prick with an AIDS-infected needle.
The work took a twist though. Piot traveled from the front lines into the international health bureaucracy, becoming the first director of UNAIDS, a United Nations agency devoted to fighting the AIDS epidemic.
Piot devoted much of his UNAIDS work to the developing world. Unquestionably the scale of AIDS there is mind-boggling. For example, a 2004 study found that 42 percent of pregnant women in Swaziland were infected with HIV.
It's not a cure, but for many, survival came through antiretroviral drugs that slowed the disease. Survival came at a steep price. At times, treatment in the United States cost $15,000 a year, a figure out of reach for the developing world where much of the population lived on $1 a day.
For his crowning achievement, Piot worked with world leaders and drug company executives to lower the cost of these medicines. It's probably Piot's greatest contribution to public health, but the bureaucratic morass isn't always interesting reading.
Still, Piot refreshingly tells the names of the good and bad actors, and that list can be surprising. The good include U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and President George W. Bush, who worked hard to bring cheap AIDS drugs to Africa. On the other side were former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Russian leaders, all of whom denied AIDS problems. Mbeki was particularly culpable: At a time when AIDS was a public health crisis, he denied any link between AIDS and HIV and banned the use of antiretrovirals in public hospitals. British newspaper The Guardian reported that these AIDS policies led to 300,000 unnecessary deaths.
At its heart, Piot has written a valuable book about the challenges of fighting infectious disease. Even better, this story is anything but sterile: "No Time to Lose" has a swashbuckling hero fighting deadly viruses with many lives hanging in the balance.
Cody Corliss, a Wetzel County writer and lawyer, regularly reviews books for the Sunday Gazette-Mail.