In the early 1990s, I moved to the Castro. Until then, ensconced in my heterosexual bubble, as it were, I'd been only vaguely aware of the scourge of AIDS. But this new neighborhood -- it felt haunted. Cadaverous men, leaning on canes, laboriously breathing from oxygen masks. The diners on Castro Street, offering 10 percent discounts to PWAs (Persons with AIDS, I discovered). At Cafe Flore on Noe and Market, people speaking in hushed tones about recently deceased partners and dwindling T-cells.
In the early ’90s, testing positive for HIV was, for a majority of those afflicted, a death sentence.
After an absence of a decade, I moved back to the Castro in 2004, finding that the atmosphere of despair had lifted considerably. My HIV-positive friend — an avid tennis player looking perpetually fit — was a prime example of how medical advances had changed the outlook for those living with the virus.
Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of a CDC report citing five cases in Los Angeles of men who had contracted pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Later those cases were designated as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which currently afflicts an estimated 34 million people around the world.
Today on KQED's Forum radio show, host Dave Iverson and guests looked back on the last 30 years of AIDS science, medicine and prevention efforts, and a look forward to the best hopes of finding a cure. Some audio clips:
"We are now asking the question 'can we restore health to the same that you get in someone who is HIV-negative. The answer to that is no. We are making people much better, but we are not restoring health... (There's a growing consensus) that the aging process is perhaps a bit accelerated in people with HIV.
"Three years ago nobody was predicting the end of the AIDS epidemic... I'm seeing some of the cure technology and therapies that are incredibly exicting. There' a possiblity that...a cure could be available even in three to five years."
"We have the tools right now to break the back of this epidemic in this country. Yet there are 8,000 people in this country who are indicated for drugs...who are waiting to get them. There's not enough funding. Why have we not summoned the national will to do the kind of treatments and interventions to stop this epidemic?"
"What we've found is that even though (the virus) is controlled, there's still activity...that causes inflammation, and that inflammation causes all sorts of damage... That starts from the moment of infection and can shorten your life span, especially if you start treatment late...For a person who's 50, my immune system looks like that of a person who's 85."
"I'd like us to think about having some of the energy we had in the mid '90s when things looked really bleak and the sun suddenly came up again... Making sure that at least everyone in this country has access to care... And then we need to start talking about a cure. Hope is really important, and it's a reasonable hope."
Listen to the entire Forum segment below:
And here's a segment from KQED's This Week In Northern California looking at San Francisco's response to AIDS over the years. Belva Davis speaks with Diane Jones, RN, and Brad Hare, MD, both with San Francisco General Hospital's legendary Ward 86, about advancements in medical treatment in the last 30 years.