By Donna Westfall – December 1, 2018 – Do you remember first hearing about AIDS? Although the HIV/AIDS virus was detected in California and New York in 1981, it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that I actually met people with the illness. The first two were gay men in Southern California. One was my insurance client and one was my tenant. Both have since passed away.
According to The California HIV Surveillance Report is published annually by the California Department of Public Health, Center for Infectious Diseases, Office of AIDS, Sacramento, California. Released on April 18, 2018 (Revised July 12, 2018), Del Norte County has very few cases of the HIV/AIDS virus; 22 in 2016. Between 2012 – 2016, only 1 case was newly diagnosed. Because of antiretrovial (ART) medications called the life-saving “triple cocktail” drug therapy, those living with the virus are living longer.
One of the most famous men to contract the HIV virus is basketball great, Magic Johnson, from unprotected heterosexual sex. He quit the game he loved so much, but although not cured, is still going strong 27 years after diagnosis.
One of the most controversial cases involved teenager Ryan White who contracted the disease from a blood transfusion and then was refused admission back into his public school. Ryan was a hemophiliac. He became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment. However, the stigma surrounding AIDS in 1985 had normal people, agencies and institutions treating people with HIV/AIDS like lepers. His parents had to sue the school to get him reinstated. Ryan originally given six months to live surprised everyone by living 5 years beyond his diagnosis. Before his death, Elton John visited him and after his death, Elton John was one of his pallbearers. Also after his death, US Congress passed a major piece of legislation called the Ryan White Care Act. Ryan White Programs are the largest provider of services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Approximately 1.1 million people in America that have the HIV/AIDS virus are being helped by with vital medical services.
So, it was back in 1990’s that I met and watched a client and separately a tenant whither away to emaciated skeletons while worrying whether or not I could get infected from just being in close proximity to them. A lot has changed from 1981 to the present. Of course, Ryan White’s story helped to educate people on myths about contracting the disease.
Recently deceased, former President George H. Bush along with his wife, Laura, had a deep interest and compassionate concern about the South African nations battling HIV/AIDS. After assuming the presidency, Bush proposed a 5 year – $15 billion initiative which became the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR/Emergency Plan) to combat global HIV/AIDS.
Because of PREFAR and research, the AIDS pandemic in South Africa peaked in 1998-1999 and since then both newly diagnosed cases and deaths have been steadily declining. The virus is not airborne and spreads solely through bodily fluids. Through education and medication, the tide has turned dramatically.
On November 29th, Vice President Mike Pence delivered remarks at the White House to commemorate World AIDS day. He recounted the Ryan White story who was from his home state of Indiana. He praised former President Bush, praised faith based organizations and extended greetings from President Donald Trump who is committed to continuing the battle against HIV/AIDS.
VP, Pence said, “…thanks … — to the efforts that the organizations here have made, not only all across Africa but all across the wider world; you’ve rescued a generation from this disease. And every day, one community, one country at a time, we’re achieving what once seemed impossible: We are controlling the HIV/AIDS pandemic without a vaccine and without a cure. It is a remarkable testament to your compassion in your lives. ”