HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States/ government’s lack of action
HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the United States
The official history of AIDS began in the USA in 1981, when its existence was announced to publicity. First, there was a suspicion that the disease was brought to the US by the French-Canadian flight attendant, Gaetan Dugas, but this version was resigned after epidemiologist researches. In the beginning of 1980, few cases of a rare form of cancer or/and pneumonia that earlier affected Mediterranean, Jewish or African elderly men, were found in young American gays. AVERT states the following information about HIV/AIDS:
The initial legitimate authorization of the situation was announced on June 5, 1981 by CDC - the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Entitled Pneumocystis Pneumonia Los Angeles, the communique specified the cases of five young gays hospitalized with severe PCP, cytomegalovirus, and disseminated candida contaminations (History of HIV & AIDS in the U.S., n.d.). As the first victims of the unknown disease were homosexuals, it required a gay-related name - GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), also known as gay cancer or gay compromise syndrome. Only in September 1982, CDC started to use a more neutral acronym, AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), instead of the humiliating and biased name.
Meanwhile, the infection affected more and more people. One of two registered cases had already occurred in the USA. Statistics reckoned heroin addicts, hemophiliacs, Haitians, and homosexuals to the most risky groups, though the disease was also found in people having nothing common with the mentioned groups.
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The threat started to be very concerning object for medics and scientists, but the mainstream America seemed to be deaf and blind. However, activists provoked the appearance of organizations, trying to struggle against AIDS. As Julia Davis mentions in her article:
The Gay Mens Health Crisis, the first community-based AIDS service provider in the U.S., was established in New York City in 1982. In 1983, the National Association of People with AIDS was founded. That same year, a group of HIV-positive activists disrupted a U.S. public health conference to issue a statement, referred to as The Denver Principles, on the rights of people living with AIDS (2006).
Thus, society reacted to the increasing epidemic, but the government and President Reagan personally kept silence and avoided any comments. After registering more than 600 cases of AIDS in the USA, the Press Secretary, Larry Speakes had been asked of Reagans comments and reaction. A shocking question followed as an answer: What is AIDS? (Ronald Reagan Remembered, 2004). Obviously, that was a manipulation to escape from the concentration on the topic. The administration of the President chose silence as a response to the disease, which resulted in thousands of deaths of gay men across the USA. Denial of non-traditional way of life was entailed in neglecting and inaction. People who got sick were stigmatized by Reagans administration. There are facts that his Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, was cut out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those, who abused intravenous drugs (Wilkins, 2011). The administration members considered themselves to be above the victims, and could never imagine themselves on their place, though almost every average American already knew at least one person who gained HIV. The administration, in much the same way as the Religious Right, accused the patients in immoral behavior, which led them to day of reckoning. As a proof of this homophobic attitude became the famous phrase of the then Religious Right leader, Jerry Falwell, AIDS is not just Gods punishment for homosexuals, it is Gods punishment for a society that tolerates homosexuals (McElvaine, 2009).
Only on September 17, 1985, President Reagan mentioned AIDS in mass communication for the first time after 5 years of silence. During his speech, he understated that struggle with the disease had never stopped during this time and researches of cure against AIDS had been the top priority for the government. Practice and death statistics showed that his statement was mostly unfounded, and no real actions were undertaken. By that time, only five pharmaceutics companies had been licensed for researches and testing of antibody against virus.
Another stroke was the news about Presidents friend, Rock Hudsons infection. But even his death did not influence taking more severe measures in a struggle with epidemic. Though publicity was acknowledged about the reasons of the famous actors death, President absolutely avoided this fact. Thereby, he continued helping in spread of AIDS.
In 1986, Surgeon Generals Report on AIDS was published, which supposed to be the main serious effort of government to prevent the spread of epidemic. It included information about the disease, and recommendations on how to avoid it. The measures, which were proclaimed after 5 years of silence and letting AIDS kill people, were the necessity for the society to know about the danger, and the report that urged parents and schools to start frank, open discussions about AIDS (Boffey, 1986). At the same time, while the information about the ways of infecting had to be available to people and they had to know that school attendance with HIV-positive person would not lead to disease, in practice, it was negotiated by the government. In the 1980s, the claim of a young hemophiliac Ryan White roused the society. He had become well known for his fight to be allowed to attend public school that was forbidden to him, as an AIDS carrier. Though he won the battle and came back to school, the attitude of parents and children continued to be very hostile (White, 1992). The case proved that American society was not ready to accept the new danger, and sharply reacted without any theoretical preparation that had to be provided by the government. Fifty-four percent of people thought that the individuals with AIDS had to be made to wear special cards and almost the same percentage considered it peoples own fault if they got AIDS (Davis, 2006). Children who had this diagnosis were banned to attend school, while adult workers were fired because of peoples fear to catch the virus.
Instead of public education about AIDS, and promoting safe sex and using contraceptives, Reagan administration made a restriction on HIV positive foreigners arriving in the country, as the means to avoiding the epidemic (The Age of AIDS, 2006).
At the same time, American society showed its unawareness and misbelieves. Most people were confused about the ways of virus transmission, and tried to avoid HIV-positive individuals as much as possible. Nearly half (47%) said they would avoid someone, who had tested positive (Survey by Los Angeles Times, 1985). Only 7% could frankly declare that they personally knew people with the diagnosis, and most population promoted the punishment and separation of infected people. This mood could possibly influence Reagans lack of action, as it was hard to change publics fixed beliefs and close-mindedness. But this was a double-sided process; society rejected infected people and the government did not prevent, thus, encouraged this way of behavior. People were so much convinced that the disease concerned only gay community and drug-addicts, that they lost any sensitivity and compassion. The religious blame just supported the hostility against homosexuals that resulted in silent deaths. Only after thousands of people, who had no relation to the gay community, became infected (including numerous famous persons), the society responded with educational mass-media campaigns, involving such celebrities as Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and others to deliver proper message to the average American. America Responds to AIDS was the first government-sponsored campaign, which had a lot of tasks in front of it. But unfortunately, these late actions already could not help those thousands of forgotten people, who cruelly died in silence, as a result of Reagans unfair policy.