Untitled Historical Overview : Untitled [1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 ] :

3. Untitled Grassroots Campaign Against AIDS & the "AIDS Coalition" . The government and societal apathy to the disease, if not downright hostility to those infected with HIV, soon galvanized and further politicized the gay community, the minority group who suffered most from the then growing AIDS epidemic. Very soon , both formal and informal grassroot organizations, largely from the gay community, were sprouting all over the United States and Western countries -- to educate their brethens of the perils of HIV infection and AIDS.

Most of these grassroots organizations devoted their efforts at the community level -- in bars, saunas, and other places of congregations for gay people -- reaching or helping one person at a time. "Safe sex!" was the focus of these outreach programs. 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.

As important, the grassroots actions were motivated also to join the societal debate on the socio-political ramifications of the AIDS epidemic. The more "civil society" has to contend with the unconventional demonstrations of members of "ACT UP", "Queer Nation", and other more radical members of the "Rainbow Coalition". The goal was to shock people and bring them out from their apathy.

The leaders of the gay community, as well as their followers, were not cowered by the growing influence of the so-called "moral majority". They fought the societal debates in various fronts -- in the streets, the legislature, the courts, the workplace and even in houses of worships.

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 was 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, including civic and religious organizations who do not share the views of the so-called "moral majority", wanted to help those suffering from AIDS, especially when their own friends and relatives were beginning to be ravaged by the disease.

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 diverging 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 practical impact of all these led to dramatic decline in reported cases of AIDS and deaths due to AIDS-related illnesses and other opportunistic infections (see figure below).

Untitled Estimated Incidence of AIDS and Deaths of MSM with AIDS*, 1985-1999 (US)36

The AIDS epidemic has significantly altered the way government responds to health crisis. It galvanized researchers and medical research institutions and government to focus on the crisis. It also necessitated the expedited review of new drugs and forced officials who make health policy to share power with patients and their advocates. A large part of this begun with the insistence of the "gay community" -- through its grassroots campaign -- not to be ignored, victimized or made a scapegoat of the epidemic.

The legacies of the socio-political struggles, between these opposing political forces in the fight to find cure for AIDS, have changed and continue to shape the political arena and moral struggle of the American people as a society. 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.]