Dec 052002
Authors: Rod Rodriguez

If you counted every American who has died in every war fought since the birth of this country well over 200 years ago, and then multiplied that number by 30, what would you have?

It’s not the national debt. It’s not the number of people out of work in this country. It is the number of people who have died from what is quickly becoming the largest disease epidemic in the history of the world.

This past weekend was World AIDS Day. AIDS – doesn’t that word just scare you to death? It’s something we fear, something we dread, but for many, it’s something we don’t understand.

Most of us can’t remember a time when AIDS didn’t exist. Many of us have known someone who died of AIDS. Some of us held their hand in the final moments of their life. I think many of us think we know what this disease means or what it has meant. We like to believe that we have a grasp on what AIDS really is. But there is a history, a hidden history, which many of us don’t even know.

A complete lack of government funding for AIDS research delayed the official discovery of AIDS in the United States until 1984, three years after it was recognized. For three years our government contested that AIDS funding was adequate yet, in three years, thousands had already died and more were sick. By the way, in France, where funding was more than adequate, AIDS was isolated within three weeks of discovery.

Ed Brandt, the Assistant Secretary for Health in the Reagan Administration, said that additional funding for AIDS research was “unnecessary” despite the memo he wrote that very same week stating that “Important AIDS work cannot be undertaken because of the lack of available resources.” He also stated that “Important prevention programs” had been “postponed, delayed, or severely curtailed.”

This is coming from the same administration that spent millions of dollars investigating cyanide poisoning in Tylenol, which managed to wipe out all of seven people. Could this have been a major tragedy? Absolutely! However AIDS was well known though it wasn’t understood and thousands had already given their lives. So why wasn’t there any real government spending on AIDS research until the Clinton Administration, over 10 years later?

“AIDS is God’s way of curing Fags.” Heard that one before? Despite the fact that heterosexuals suffer from this horrible disease in numbers that far exceed those of homosexuals, it will always be a curse on the gay community. Though things are changing, for many years to come, AIDS will continue to be the “gay disease.”

So what happened to those affected by AIDS during the time when no medication or therapy was available? For many, their sickness was so debilitating that they decided to end their lives before the disease could take complete control. People would actually set a date that they would commit suicide, so that they could spend the last moments of their lives with their friends and family, and then take their life in the privacy of their own home with those special to them.

Could you imagine having a friend so sick with no hope of recovery, that you watch them swallow pills right in front of you? This is the reality of AIDS.

Earlier this year, I was talking to a man who was living with AIDS. Hearing about his partner’s death five years before, being in and out of the hospital, his relationship with his family and friends and how it changed, his life and how it changed, brought me to tears. I stepped forward and hugged him with my tears falling on his shoulder. He cried too.

“You are the first person to hug me in six months.” No real human contact for half a year, this is the reality of AIDS.

Now AIDS is again being seriously under-funded and the current administration is even going against UN recommendations on AIDS funding. Will the epidemic continue to spiral out of control? Only time will tell.

Time is something we don’t have. Do you realize that, in just the time it took you to read this column, 38 people have become infected with HIV/AIDS, and 22 people have died from it? This is the reality of AIDS.

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