​Meet America's point man on infectious diseases

From AIDS to the current Ebola outbreak, when infectious disease strikes, the doctor -- Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health -- is in. Our new contributor, Scott Simon of NPR, paid Dr. Fauci a visit for some Questions and Answers:

In a time when Washington politicians can't seem to agree on whom to put on a postage stamp, there is one person Democrats and Republicans respect: Dr. Anthony Fauci.

He's worked at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health for 31 years. He's the man who rallies government when sickness becomes a public health crisis:

"Regardless of what your ideological bent is, people understand illness," said Dr. Fauci. "People understand health. Everybody wants health."

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with contributor Scott Simon. CBS News

He tries to sound the alarm about public health without being alarming.

Back in 1988, George H.W. Bush was asked to name his heroes in a presidential debate:

"I think of Dr. Fauci. Probably never heard of him. You did, Ann [Compton of ABC News] heard of him. He's a very fine research, top doctor, at the National Institutes of Health, working hard doing something about research on this disease of AIDS."

Dr. Fauci began at the NIH just as AIDS was beginning to kill thousands of young men across the country. Activists complained that federal programs overseen by Dr. Fauci let promising treatments languish behind rigid regulations.

"It was a very frightening time," said activist Peter Staley. "And our government was -- from our perspective -- completely ignoring us and letting us die. So we had to act."

Staley was featured in the 2012 documentary, "How to Survive a Plague," about the early years of AIDS. He and other activists targeted Dr. Fauci in their struggle to get effective medications.

The targeting, said Simon, went beyond demonstrative: "This is calling someone a murderer, this is putting their bloody head on a stick. Why did you feel you had to do that?

"We had no time to waste in actually guilt-tripping the country about how they were responding to this crisis," replied Staley, "how they with ignoring the fact that thousands of their own citizens were dying."

Playwright Larry Kramer ("The Normal Heart") wrote an open letter to Fauci calling him a murderer - "to get my attention," said Fauci. "And guess what: he succeeded. He got my attention!"

Fauci didn't shut out the shouts of his critics. He opened his ears, and his heart. "I think, the smartest and best things that I've done is that, rather than run away from it, the way many scientists did -- like, 'Keep those activists away from me' -- I started to listen to what they were saying. And what they were saying was making perfect sense."