AIDS Epidemic; A Disease that Transcends Ever since the discovery of AIDS in the United States, the disease has become the one of the greatest public health issue the country has faced. From its political impact all the way to its societal impact, AIDS has significantly influenced how we tackle infectious diseases. The discovery of AIDS not only made us aware of the disease itself, it also made us aware of how race, gender and social class impact and interact with this fatal disease. It has always been evident through research that biology is not the only factor to blame in terms of contracting an infectious disease– outside factors can be blamed as well, perhaps even equally to blame. Research and statistics have shown that African Americans especially African American men who have sex with men, are more likely to fall victim to this disease compared to their white counterparts. The “sexual revolution” in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the rise of income inequality and racial tension fueled the spread of disease in the country. The changes and instability in the country became the perfect catalyst for the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the 1980’s. It is important that we reveal the why’s and how’s behind this public health phenomenon to reach the country’s full potential in preventing and treating it. During the 1980s AIDS epidemic, the United States government and other non-governmental organizations have found different ways to prevent another epidemic and the spread of AIDS. Although that may have been a great start, the taboo behind the disease and the stigma that follow those who are unfortunately infected by it slow the progress. Ironically, the organizations meant to help those in desperate in need also became one of the reasons why the disease spread. During 1980s AIDS epidemic all the way to its peak in the early 1990s, the disease exposed how fatal governmental and societal flaws can be to an individual’s life. What we know about the disease today has significantly changed the societal perception of the disease and influenced the mortality rate of those who are infected. After decades of research, new information has been revealed in terms of the causes, symptoms and the treatment needed to prolong one’s life. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that spreads through certain fluids in our body and attacks an individual’s immune system. Scientists have uncovered the origin of this virus. They revealed that its source is a specific kind of chimpanzee in Central Africa which then transmitted to humans. HIV can destroy so many cells –cells that help the immune system fight off infections– that can result in the body not being able to fight off other diseases and infections that comes its way. If left untreated, HIV can then lead to AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. CDC reports that no effective cure currently exists that fully removes the virus from the body, but HIV can be controlled with proper medical care. Antiretroviral therapy or ART is the medicine that can be used to treat HIV. If an individual who is infected takes ART consistently on the right, it can significantly lengthen their life. If the medicine is taken properly it can “keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of infecting others” (CDC). As stated by the CDC, before ART was introduced in the mid-1990’s, people’s HIV often developed to AIDS in just a few short years. Today, however, an individual who is infected can live as long as someone who does not have HIV if it is diagnosed and treated early. The best way to diagnose and treat HIV/AIDS is to get tested but the physical symptoms can be a “flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after the infection” (CDC). What we know today reveals how far we have come since its discovery. Although it has no cure that fully removes the virus, prolonging one’s life and giving them a second chance is a step forward in the right direction.To better understand AIDS/HIV, we must explore its history and the changes in how we approached this disease over time. The earliest AIDS case in the United States was confirmed in 1968, a 16-year-old teenager who never received a blood transfusion or left the midwest. From this, experts concluded that HIV and AIDS may have been in the country before 1960’s. However, from the very beginning, identifying AIDS had its difficulties. AIDS appeared as other conditions such as Pneumocystic carinii pneumonia (PCP) and Kaposi sarcoma (KS) and in result, made it difficult to identify, research and possibly treat it. According to Healthline “The History of HIV and AIDS in the United States” by Rachel Nall, when AIDS was first discovered, people believed only certain people could become infected. The mass media called them the “four-H club”– hemophiliacs, homosexual mean, heroin users, and Haitian origin (Nall). In 1984, researchers studied the disease more in-depth and they soon discovered that females could also fall victim to HIV through sex. A discovery that changed how doctors, experts, and society saw the disease. The disease has become a condition that was not only exclusive to the “four-H club” but a disease that anyone could fall victim to. The government and non-governmental organizations all worked together to stop the spread of the disease and its treatment. U.S Food & Drug Administration reports that the first FDA approved drug treatment for aids was in March 1987, a few years after the epidemic began. Although only a few thousand died by the time treatment was approved, the public health officials were trying to keep the disease under control as much as they can. The changes and instability in the country between the 1960s and 1970s resulted in the country becoming the perfect environment for infectious disease to thrive. The sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s not only encouraged everyone to be sexually liberated but also provoked the spread of STDs. Liberation came riskier sexual behaviors such as unprotected sex and more random sex acts with people who may not have been healthy. Gay men and women especially felt their freedom when they felt more confident in “coming out the closet.” Straight Americans, as well as gay Americans, experienced an increased rate of all kinds of STDs. This feeling of sexual liberation was brought into the 1980’s– when the AIDS epidemic began. The commercialization of blood supply in the medical field also significantly influenced the spread of the disease. Due to more complex and modernized, medical procedures required more blood and blood from volunteers was not enough. The other method to get more blood they need was to buy it. Although this method seems effective, the people who sold their blood were often poor or IV drug user. As we know now, drug use is a leading cause of contracting HIV/AIDS and poor people tend to not have access to health care. This commercialization began before the medical field knew about HIV/AIDS, thus they did not test for HIV/AIDS in the blood supply. They then transfuse the blood to patients that needed it and in result, they may have spread the disease unknowingly. There have been public measures to control and prevent AIDS/HIV. In the 1980s, health officials, doctors, and gay support organizations have been exploring ways to tackle this public health issue. The New England Journal of Medicine “Public Health Policy and the AIDS Epidemic — An End to HIV Exceptionalism?” by Ronald Bayer reports gay organizations would often encourage homosexual and bisexual men to have their antibody status checked in confidentiality or anonymously. Doctors advocated for aids to be once again part of the medical mainstream and for the HIV-antibody tests to be like other blood tests–only done with patient’s consent (Bayer). The effort for mandatory testing for pregnant women and newborns was also on the rise, but pediatricians did not recommend this. In the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, there was a debate whether the names of infected individuals should be in confidential registries controlled by the public health department. Many gay groups and public health officials were against this method of preventing the spread of AIDS. Not only is it an invasion of their privacy but it can also discourage people to seek help. There have been changes in the justice system in the country as well to protect those who are at risk of contracting the disease. Between the years 1987 through 1989, 20 states have adopted regulations that allow the criminalization of persons whose behavior can spread HIV onto others. Bayer reports “1990 Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act requires that all states receiving funds have the statutory capacity to prosecute those who engage in behavior linked to the transmission of HIV infection to unknowing partners.” From philanthropists to the justice system, the country as a whole explored methods to prevent AIDS/HIV from spreading in their own ways. Although some may not have been successful, trial and error can and will find the best methods to confront this issue. The public health measures taken by the government and organizations to prevent the AIDS/HIV and its treatment have not helped the African American community as successfully as others. Studies show that African Americans are ten times more likely to become infected by the disease compared to their white counterparts (CDC). Black men who have sex with men or MSM suffer the most and are impacted the hardest out of everyone in the country. By 1985, African Americans made up 10% of those who are diagnosed with AIDS, almost double their population at the time. Poverty was a large factor in this and as well as racism and discrimination in the country. African Americans are more likely to be impoverished due to overall disadvantages in the country in terms of education, employment and neighborhoods they live in. According to Journal of Black Studies article “African Americans and HIV/AIDS––The Epidemic Continue: An Intervention to Address the HIV/AIDS Pandemic in the Black Community” by Latrena Davidson, programs that prevent the spread of AIDS have proven to be ineffective in the African American community. Barriers such as decreased access to health care, lack of insurance and poverty are all factors that made AIDS a more difficult public health issue compared to the more privileged. Poverty can also lead to risky behaviors such as prostitution and drug use. These risky behaviors are the leading causes of the disease and are difficult to stop due outside influences. The discovery of HIV/AIDS and the 1980’s epidemic that came soon after brought stigmatization, confusion and a sense of fear in society. The fear of the unknown pushed people to assume and jump to conclusions thus, shame was put on those who were unfortunate enough to be infected by AIDS. This stigma and prejudice against people with AIDS may have begun when AIDS was first recognized in 1980’s and a group of gay men in Los Angeles and New York was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia– diseases that appeared like AIDS. AIDS Stigma and Sexual Prejudice by Gregory M. Herek and John P. Capitanio report that “early media reports referred to it variously as a gay disease, gay cancer, or gay plague, and some health care providers and researchers informally labeled it GRID “gay-related immune deficiency” (1130). The gay community and their allies have worked diligently to undo this stigma that followed them by educating everyone and funding AIDS research and prevention. While the gay community tries to “dehomosexualize” AIDS, conservatives and devout Christians used AIDS to further their anti-gay agenda. Anti-gay activists often publicly spoke against the gay community and link the disease with the community. In Exposing the Aids scandal by P. Cameroon, an anti-gay activist claims “It seems pretty clear if homosexuals hadn’t come out of the closet and started sodomizing one another all over the world, none of this would have gotten started in the first place… It’s safe to say AIDS is the first and greatest by-product of the Gay Liberation Movement (Cameron, 126). The gay community often faced this kind of homophobia due to their “connection” with the disease. They became the scapegoats for the starting the epidemic and was seen as a constant threat to the community. The gay community was blamed for the disease so society could better cope with the disease, rather than educating themselves about the issue. This stigma not only hurts the gay community but the public health efforts to prevent and treat AIDS as well. Herek and Capitanio reveal “Americans who believe that male-male sex can never be safe are unlikely to support AIDS prevention programs targeting men who have sex with unless those programs enforce complete abstinence from homosexual behavior” (1144). Hurting programs that aim to help everyone no matter their sexual orientation only slows progress and future innovation. Attacking the gay community results in nothing but taking time, money and efforts away from the real problem, which is the AIDS itself– not an individual’s sexual preference. How the country as a whole approached AIDS in the 1980’s revealed how successes and failures can influence a whole community for the better or worse.