Twenty years of struggle against AIDS
Grassroots campaign against AIDS. Left to suffer and face the epidemic on their own, the gay community begun to set up their own grassroots organizations to fight the growing
epidemic. While some of these grassroots organizations fought the battle in the political arena, most were community-oriented groups focusing on educating their brethens about the the perils of
"Safe sex!" was the message. This message was soon replaced with the more appropriate slogan, "Safer Sex!", when the medical community emphasized that there was no foolproof method against HIV infection.
The "AIDS Coalition". The grassroots organizations, in the fight to find cure for AIDS, started within the gay community -- the group that has most at stake in the AIDS epidemic. However, the fight against AIDS were soon joined by other sectors. Biomedical scientists want to understand the biology of HIV, the epidemiology and pathology of the disease. Physicians and health care givers wanted to provide cure or alleviate the suffering of their AIDS patients. The more compassionate members of the community wanted to help those suffering of AIDS, especially when their own friends and relatives were beginning to be ravaged by the disease. And those living with HIV or AIDS have the most at stake.
Considering the potential magnitude of the AIDS crisis and its potential to become huge profit sources, biopharmaceutical companies wanted to discover the vaccines and drugs to cure AIDS. Large metropolitan hospitals built AIDS centers, in anticipation of the number of AIDS patients they expect to serve.
In the United States, the convergence of these divergent interests and goals, from the above diverse groups, led eventually to an informal alliance that gave birth to the "AIDS coalition". This "coalition" became the political force that pitted its political muscle against the powerful "moral majority" alliance.
The convergence of these diverse interests and goals soon forced politicians to heed the political lobbies from the informal "AIDS Coalition". Eventually, more federal funds were soon allocated to HIV/AIDS research and information campaign.
The political power gained by the informal "AIDS Coalition", is a testament to the vast potential of grassroots campaigns. Today, the total federal funds devoted to AIDS research, education and prevention rival even the amount devoted to other diseases, e.g., cardiovascular diseases and stroke -- still the major causes of death and disability in the United States. [However, the latter has caused unease in some sectors of society or even some members of the scientific community who are concerned about the allocation of limited research funds.]
The increased funding for AIDS research, from federal and private foundation sources, eventually led to medical breakthroughs in understanding the biology of HIV, the epidemiology and pathology of the disease (see separate section
HIV biology and challenges in fighting the virus
). These discoveries led eventually to development of better and rapid HIV screening procedures, antiretroviral and combination drug therapies and improved health care modalities.
With all these breakthroughs, Western countries made headway in the fight against AIDS. In the United States (see figure below), new cases of AIDS (yellow triangle) peaked in 1993 and AIDS deaths (blue diamond) peaked by the mid 1995 and started significant declines thereafter. Also, while the number of people living with HIV/AIDS remain high (rust diamond), they can now expect to live longer with a "manageable disease".
Aftermath. The struggle to find a cure for AIDS has contributed to other areas of biomedical research. Discoveries about the basic biology of HIV (see separate section
HIV biology and challenges in fighting the virus
) proved useful in other areas of biomedical research and clinical therapy. In drug testing, the Food and Drug Administration radically modified and streamlined its policies and practices to accelerate clinical testing and approval of promising drugs and therapies against HIV and AIDS. The streamlined procedures dramatically reduced the time (which used to take several years) between drug discovery until the time it gets to the patient; a procedure that are now being adopted for approval of drugs and therapies against other diseases.
The "socio-political clash of ideas and values", between the opposing political forces in the "AIDS debate", have changed and continue to shape the political arena and moral struggle of the American people as a society. The legacies of these socio-political struggles have been instrumental in shaping and continue to evolve US policies on privacy, discrimination, allocation of resources, etc. [Visit, New York Times, AIDS at 20, for a historical news archive of the AIDS epidemic.]
The "community prevention campaign" initiated by the gay community to combat the spread of the HIV infection is a testament to the power of grassroots organizations and volunteerism.
AIDS spreads around the world
or visit, New York Times, AIDS at 20, for a historical news archive of the AIDS epidemic.