Editorial: AIDS in a “Post-Pandemic” Society
By: Joseph Brant, Editor
Over the last year, we have become uncomfortably familiar with how quickly a virus can change the world. One day, life is entirely normal. The next, the world is a daunting place, hazy and unclear. The virus that will likely become the most infamous in history is the one we are experiencing now. It has irrefutably impacted the life of every person across the globe. As we attempt to move forward from this pandemic, it’s important to assess our past and our present global health crises with the new knowledge and understanding we have acquired.
According to the CDC, coronavirus has tragically claimed the lives of nearly 2.71 million people worldwide in little over a year. AIDS-related illnesses killed 2.2 million people in just Sub-Saharan Africa in 2001, yet society has done little to address it.
As AIDs raged in the LGBTQ+ community during the 1980s and the subsequent epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa during the 2000s, the government and general public turned, and continues to turn, its back away from the crisis. Historically speaking, the government has done little to address domestic and international AIDS epidemics, resulting in the abandonment of entire demographics and the death of millions.
When AIDS cases first began appearing in the USA, the virus was poorly understood. There was little research done at the time, but eventually doctors concluded that the disease was transmitted sexually. However, the virus had already begun to creep across cities, changing the life of thousands of Americans within the same year.
Those who contracted the virus were often treated with contempt and disgust, as if their status was something to be ashamed of. HIV can be transmitted to anyone, no matter a person’s sexuality, race, or class. Unfortunately, it spread most rapidly within the queer community, producing even more discrimination and stigma. The virus encroached upon the flourishing gay culture of the time, with the Stonewall, ballroom culture, and queer expression at its peak.
Sadly, this era was darkened by the spread of AIDS within the community. People had to watch their friends slowly deteriorate and wait with bated breath as they monitored their health. Many kept their status a secret, trying to avoid the stigma of living with the virus. In a world where gay partners could not get married, queer people of the time attended infinitely more funerals than they did weddings.
However, the virus reached a point where it could no longer be ignored. It permeated the news and politics, as people began to protest the unfair treatment of HIV positive people during the 1980s. One teenager was expelled from his school after contracting HIV through hemophilia treatments. The government barred HIV-positive immigrants from entering the country, which was not repealed until the late 1990s.
The massive death toll of AIDS could also no longer be ignored. In 1985, Rock Hudson, a Hollywood star from the 1950s and 60s, sadly lost his life to AIDS-related illnesses. As the death toll continued to climb, the government failed to make any considerable contributions to treating the illness or supporting the impoverished regions in which it was spreading.
The AIDS epidemic nearly wiped out a generation of queer Americans. They could have been legislators, journalists, lobbyists, or attorneys, engaging in our government and changing our realities. They could have been representation for queer people in media and government, which the lack of can be largely attributed to the vast loss of life during the 1980s and the stigma that followed it. The AIDS epidemic changed the queer community forever and continues to have an impact on the lives of millions of Americans, as the virus is not merely an issue of the past.
The AIDS epidemic rapidly caused other regions to have increased cases. Sub-Saharan Africa became the deadliest place to catch the virus, resulting in the highest global reported cases and deaths. With a lack of infrastructure and medical care in Sub-Saharan Africa, many people are unable to receive the treatment they need, especially if they live in poverty. While many foundations have become devoted to solving this crisis, like Apple’s PRODUCT(RED) initiative, the virus continues to claim lives across the globe. In 2019, 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses.
With a problem that seems far removed from our time and location, it’s easy to become disengaged. However, we must commit ourselves to helping bring awareness, donations, and de-stigmatization to this global health crisis. If you’re a legislator, I implore you to write a bill. A journalist, I encourage you to pursue the truth. A lobbyist, the world needs you to advocate. An attorney, I encourage you to defend the rights of people living with AIDS across the globe.
We may have failed to substantially solve the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, but there is still time to address the current crisis and give our attention and support to those who need it. In the words of President Barack Obama, “Like no other illness, AIDS tests our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.”
I challenge you to do just that.
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