Thursday, June 09, 2016

"The Fight Against AIDS" finally airs on CNN's "The Eighties"


CNN “The Eighties” tonight finally, after many pre-emptive delays, aired “The Fight Against AIDS” (Episode 6).

The episode starts by noting how young gay men barely understand the history of what happened three decades ago.  That’s ironic, then, that the airing kept getting postponed.


The episode tells the story pretty well, starting with an encroaching medical mystery of young gay men, as well as recipients of blood products, going suddenly ill and declining quickly, with the number of cases doubling every six months.  The film somewhat exaggerates the number of sexual partners younger gay men in New York and California probably had.  The film summarizes very quickly the discovery of HTLV-III, but covers the “politics of denial” regarding taking the test.

The first cases were officially reported in the summer of 1981.  By early 1983, the media was starting to cover it heavily. In April, Time called it the "public health threat of the century."  Geraldo Rivera did a sensational report in May 1983 where he showed a particularly graphic case of Kaposi's Sarcoma.  In late 1982, I actually met James Curran of CDC at a conference in Dallas.  Rivera claimed that AIDS had come to the US through Haiti, but it is probable that it came to the US directly from Africa and then went to Haiti. 
  
The first major drug that would be authorized would be AZT, with PWA’s taking other drugs on the black market.


The episode covers Ryan White, who got the virus through clotting factor.  The “existential fear” often led people to shun even the “innocent” victims. President Reagan would not mention the disease until 1987, and when he did his remarks contained some equivocation and some moralizing, that brought catcalls.  It also covers Larry Kramer’s Act Up, which was instrumental in getting NIH to speed up researching new drugs, leading to the protease inhibitors of today.

I was living in Dallas, from 1979-1988 and lived through the heart of the political crisis in Texas, where very draconian anti-gay legislation was proposed in 1983 (HR 2138, expanding on the old 2106), but the Dallas Gay Alliance was able to keep it from getting out of committee.  Right wing groups like the “Dalls Doctors Against AIDS” made up theories claiming that gay men endangered all of civilization by “amplifying” the virus which then might make unpredictable mutations.

The episode touched on the controversy over testing for HTLV-III/HIV.  Gay activists often screamed "don't take the test".

The episode also covered the Quilt, starting in 1987.


P.D. picture on Wikipedia of the NAMES Project Memorial AIDS Quilt 

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