There are certain social problems that society does not like to discuss because it is embarrassing. Rock Hudson suffered with AIDS long before he decided to go public and to admit that he had the virus. When asked why he did not go public sooner Hudson said shame and the public misunderstanding of the affliction were factors in his silence.
AIDS continued to spread because people were ashamed that they had the disease. It has been 30 years since Rock Hudson told the world that he had AIDS; unfortunately, 30 years after Hudson’s disclosure millions of people have died from AIDS. Washington has more cases of AIDS than West Africa. So why does a disease that has caused the untimely deaths of millions of people still carry the same burden of silence that caused Rock Hudson to suffer in silence.
The answer comes in four letters: FEAR. From the first whispers about the disease until Hudson’s bold admission AIDS spread because of fear and ignorance about the disease. People who should have been yelling the loudest were silent. The World AIDS Conference in Washington this summer placed the AIDS crisis on the newspaper front page for a week before the disease was placed back on the back pages again.
Although the spotlight is gone and the sound stage on the mall has been torn down AIDS is still here. Donya Bates gave a report on AIDS in a college course taught by this print journalist in 1988. Bates listed each famous person who had died from AIDS at that time starting with Rock Hudson. She completed the list in 15 minutes. Today the same reading would take hours.
The AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2012 was the first time in the 30 years of reported history of the disease that the travel restrictions were lifted to allow those persons infected with the AIDS virus to legally travel to the United States of America to attend the week long events which were part of the 2012 AIDS Conference.
The original fear and misunderstanding of how the disease was transmitted was a factor in the long delay in allowing AIDS infected people to travel to the United States. Actress Linda Evans kissed Rock Hudson in a scene on the Dynasty television series on ABC before his death from AIDS. There was concern on the set that AIDS could be transmitted from kissing. Research later confirmed that AIDS can only be transmitted from a blood transfusion or sexual activity. The Dynasty episode illustrates the early misconceptions about AIDS.
In an interview with people who attended the 2012 AIDS Conference the major consensus of the United States of America and its effort to find a cure for the disease is that more should be done. The role that has been played by drug companies is to give AIDS patients the medication needed to slow the progress of the disease has been a major factor in extending the life spans of many AIDS patients.
The Whitman Walker Clinic in Washington, DC, was supported by Elizabeth Taylor to further research and treatment of AIDS. Taylor was the only person who was listed with the roll call of those who have died from AIDS. Although Taylor did not die from AIDS she was honored because of her dedication to the Whitman Walker Clinic and a life that gave AIDS victims hope and support.
DC Mayor Vincent Gray has been one city leader who has spent his entire public life leading the fight to call attention to the AIDS crisis. Gray began his work in the AIDS crisis shortly after he was appointed to Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly’s administration in 1991. Twenty years later Gray was still on the stage crying out to the nation to heed to the call to fight the deadly disease. “Every year on this day, I’m mindful of those – including personal friends of mine here in the District as well as untold millions around the world – whom we’ve lost to this cruel disease,” Gray said. There is a reason for the sense of urgency that Gray brings to the AIDS crisis. More than 11,000 District residents have died of AIDS-related illness since the epidemic began three decades ago.
Gray noted that more than 14,000 District residents are currently infected with HIV – comprising 2.7 percent of the population, a level that the World Health Organization considers an epidemic. In addition, as many as 2-3 percent of the population may be infected, but not know of their status. There is a time to be silent and there is a time to be loud. Many AIDS victims have suffered in silence for 30 years. Now it is time to be very loud. End AIDS now!
Tschiffelly Pharmacy in Washington is doing an extraordinary customer service by helping patients to find ways of administering their medications so that the medication does not interfere with their work schedules. A special feature on Tschiffelly Pharmacy will appear on this page next week.