Wednesday, May 31, 2006

25 Years of AIDS and Still A Lack of Commitment to Prevention

This week is the 25th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases of AIDS. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 70 million people have contracted HIV and more than 30 million have died. The numbers of people with HIV have doubled since 1995.

30 million dead.

The numbers are staggering. They are not just statistics. For me, they are Danny, Michael, Damien, Stuart, Lacey, Marjorie. You have your own list.

Last night PBS' Frontline aired part one of "The Age of AIDS." It was a carefully constructed history of the beginning of the epidemic. The heroes came back to me: Don Francis, Dr. Koop, Jonathan Mann. So did those who did nothing, political and religious leaders who didn't care enough because the disease was primarily affecting gay men at first.

I watched with my children and was flooded with memories. I remembered debating Phyllis Schafley on a PBS program in the 1980's, shortly after Dr. Koop's report came out. I told her, "It is immoral to say to the young people of America 'just say no or die.'" It still is. I remembered taking Dr. Koop to Hollywood to meet with stars about how they could become involved in responding to AIDS. I remembered my first speech on AIDS at a CDC meeting in 1986, shortly after HIV had been identified. I said then "Every new case of AIDS from hereon will be a failure of political will to honestly address sexuality and drug use." It still is.

And I remembered the funerals. I went to a lot of funerals of beautiful young men who died way too soon during my first years at SIECUS. And although anti-virals have changed that in the United States, millions of people are still dying around the world. And the US government spends one third of its HIV prevention monies promoting abstinence from all sexual contact. And the Vatican still prohibits condom use.

Watch Part Two on Frontline tonight with your children. Tell them there is still no vaccine for HIV. Talk to them about condoms and safe sex. Tell them what the epidemic meant to you. Tell them in a moral world, no one would get a preventable fatal disease.


Bill Baar said...

The Doc who teaches our OWL program at UUSG was critical of safe-sex programs taught in our public schools. He said abstinance was only solution. He was angry our local schools taught otherwise.

Anonymous said...

This was an amazing documentary. I was glued to my TV set. This wonderfully written piece made is so very clear how politics and religion got in the way of saving millions of human lives. May we learn from our mistakes.