AIDS 20th Anniversary Op-Eds Continue
Columnists and op-ed writers from around the world have continued to reflect on the AIDS epidemic this week, 20 years after the first media reports on the disease. Summaries of some of the opinion pieces appear below:
- "Look to Darwin for Reality Check on AIDS": "When AIDS erupted 20 years ago, politics was not far behind. ... Yet, AIDS is ultimately not political; it is viral. It is subject to the laws of nature, not human society. And so while AIDS may someday be cured, the Darwinian reality underscoring all natural phenomena will continue to flummox both liberals and conservatives," James Pinkerton writes in his Newsday column. "The AIDS virus, like everything else in the natural world, is constantly evolving and adapting. And that spells trouble for political ideologies," he continues. "Although some on the right still cling to Biblical creationism and decry the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, only the full acceptance of Darwinian biology -- past, present and future -- offers the hope that scientists will be able to keep pace with the ever-mutating AIDS virus," he states. "And for many on the left, disturbed by the full implications of that same Darwinian theory, the realization must come that nature, and its subset, human nature, presupposes endless competition, not egalitarian cooperation," he continues. "The moral of this story is this: Not every technological solution to the dreads of nature will succeed. And that's a larger reality that should keep everyone -- right, left and center -- feeling small and humble," he concludes (Pinkerton, Newsday, 6/7).
- "Turn Despair to Hope": "The fight against AIDS is everywhere burdened by taboos," Bob Herbert states in his "In America" column in the New York Times. "The tragic head-in-the-sand responses of some leaders in China, Africa and elsewhere are not uncommon. Fear, ignorance, poverty, shame and, to a large extent, the inability of most of us to grasp the enormity of this disaster are all standing in the way of effective action against AIDS," he continues. "Myriad taboos will have to be overcome, and alliances will have to be forged" between wealthy and developing nations to combat the epidemic, he states. Providing treatment is "[o]ne of the ways to break through the stigmas" of HIV/AIDS. HIV diagnosis in countries with little or no access to anti-AIDS medications is the "equivalent of a death sentence," he states, adding that it gives people "very little incentive to learn" their HIV status. Although money is "desperately needed," it "won't be enough," he continues. "What's really needed are adequately financed partnerships that span the globe, are based on mutual respect and are committed to the very difficult long-term task of fighting the disease," he states. "We are in the early stages of an unprecedented threat to the health of the human species. The long dark night of AIDS has just begun," he concludes (Herbert, New York Times, 6/7).
- "Why is the Media Dropping the Ball on AIDS Orphans?": Albina du Boisrouvray, president of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Foundation and Association, which currently has AIDS projects in 13 developing countries, states in a Mediachannel.org op-ed that she has been "fighting an uphill battle to interest news organizations in the plight of ... children orphaned by AIDS" only to be met with "indifference." Much of the media has "shamefully .. refused to sound the alarm and crank up its megaphone" regarding the issue, she continues, citing a nine-month study by the media monitoring organization Media Tenor, which found that only 0.06% of 13,237 media reports in 2000 "focused on AIDS." The report also found that those reports that did take up the issue focused on men three to one over women, despite a "nearly equal global infection rate" between the genders. "[W]hat's true of coverage of the whole epidemic is especially true of AIDS orphans," whom du Boisrouvray calls "voiceless and ignored." She cites an FXB press conference two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., where only four of 12 news organizations that pledged to attend showed up. Among the broadcast news outlets, only BET and the PBS Newshour attended. "Media coverage is essential to galvanizing public attention and concern ... Only intensive and continuing media coverage will heighten awareness and action," she concludes (du Boisrouvray, Mediachannel.org, 6/5).
- "Twenty Years of AIDS -- and Counting": "[N]one of us involved in those early days of AIDS could have imagined the scale of the epidemic that has unfolded. It is a tale of globalization: of the rapid global spread of a mainly sexually transmitted virus, of global iniquities in health and of the need for a truly global response and solution," Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS, states in a Bangkok Post op-ed. And because of the latent nature of HIV, "it is a tale that is still in its opening chapters," he continues. "But that does not mean that we have no choice but [to] succumb to an inevitably growing toll of the disease. The opposite is true," he states. A meeting last month of 30 "leading" AIDS researchers and policymakers led to five major conclusions, Piot states. First, "investment now will prevent tens of millions of new infections and extend the lives of millions already living with HIV," he states. Second, "special recognition of the needs of young people maximizes the effectiveness and impact of prevention." Third, prevention, medical treatment and "social support are all critical components of effective responses," he continues. Fourth, a "beginning can be made" with regard to antiretroviral therapy, even though the cost of the drugs remains high. And fifth, "political commitment and planning" already exist in many places, enabling programs to be built upon existing models. "What they lack are the resources," he states. The global AIDS trust proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will fill that "gap," he continues. "For the first time in the history of this epidemic we have the opportunity to turn the tide on a truly large scale -- the scale that matches the extent of the epidemic ... We know what we need to do to slow new infections and provide care for those who are ill. The only question ... is whether we have the will to do it," he concludes (Piot, Bangkok Post, 6/6).
- Letter responds to New York Times reports on AIDS: Theresa McGovern, former executive director of the HIV Law Project, writes in a letter to the New York Times that while the paper "describe[s] the effect of the AIDS epidemic on the gay community, politics, public health" and other areas, it "do[es] not mention women." A 1990 lawsuit by the HIV Law Project forced the government to alter its definition of AIDS, which the suit alleged was "based primarily on studies of gay white men." Because of that suit the "disability criteria" for AIDS were expanded to allow women "greater access" to AIDS services, she concludes (McGovern, New York Times, 6/6).