NEWS: The Fight Against HIV/AIDs Continues
In 1981, the first reports of HIV/AIDS came forward, and at that time the disease did not yet have a name. By the end of that year, more than 270 gay men had experienced a severe immune deficiency, and 121 had already died. But this was just the beginning of the tragedy. Over the course of the 1980s approximately 687,507 people with AIDS perished in the United States. At former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s funeral on Friday March 11, 2016, Hillary Clinton credited the Reagans for conducting a “very effective, low-key” awareness and fight against HIV/AIDS. Clinton’s statement was followed by a firestorm of angry comments calling out her error as the Reagans did very little to help during the AIDS epidemic. Clinton took to Twitter quickly, saying, “While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on H.I.V. and AIDS. For that, I’m sorry.”
After Clinton’s comment, Michael Specter, a staff writer for The New Yorker, reported on the actual Reagan involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS including that the Reagan’s did nothing to intervene until 1987. By that time, Specter states twenty-five thousand people had already died. Specter also says, “His [Reagan’s] Administration ridiculed people with AIDS—his spokesman, Larry Speakes, made jokes about them at press conference. . . . Nancy Reagan refused to act in any way in 1985 to help her friend Rock Hudson when he was in Paris dying of AIDS.” While HIV/AIDS can be seen as a problem of the past, this is entirely untrue. Not as many Americans die from AIDS because thanks to pharmaceuticals, but to this day more the 1.2 million Americans are suffering from HIV, and 1 in 8 do not even know they have the infection.
Clinton went on to also apologize on the website, Medium, giving credit where it was truly due. “To be clear, the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS. That distinction belongs to generations of brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, along with straight allies, who started not just a conversation but a movement that continues to this day.” She said, “the AIDS crisis in America began as a quiet, deadly epidemic. Because of discrimination and disregard, it remained that way for far too long. When many in positions of power turned a blind eye, it was groups like ACT UP, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and others that came forward to shatter the silence — because as they reminded us again and again, Silence = Death.” It can be argued that HIV/AIDS has been pushed to the background once more as the CDC reports “Since the epidemic began, an estimated 311,087 men who have sex with men (MSM) with an AIDS diagnosis have died, including an estimated 5,380 in 2012.” This is an outstanding number of recent deaths for American citizens who pride themselves on advancement and innovation in both medical and technical engineering.
On the heels of Clinton’s misspeaking, Bernie Sanders’ campaign released a new, comprehensive plan to abolish HIV and AIDS altogether. His plan is to have a multibillion-dollar Prize Fund, whose purpose is to reward medical innovation. This, in return, will drive down the prices of pharmaceutical drugs. His campaign advocates for the assistance and protection of all peoples suffering from the disease saying this, “Bernie would push for legislation that would expand civil rights protections to all LGBT individuals and those living with HIV/AIDS.” His website also points out how far behind the United States is in regards to the pharmaceutical industry, “The United States is the only major country on earth that does not regulate prescription drug prices in some manner, and the results have been an unmitigated disaster for patients and their families.”
As the disease ends lives in the United States, this issue cannot be put on the back burner. Bernie Sanders could be called opportunistic by releasing his plan so closely after Hillary Clinton’s blunder at Nancy Reagan’s funeral, but he should be commended for his continued support to eradicating HIV and AIDS. Because while HIV infection has remained consistent in the population in recent years, there are still around 50,000 new cases of the infection each year. Until there are no more cases reported, and no more deaths related to AIDS, this is an issue that should not and cannot be silenced.