30 years later, AIDS should still be the focus, SF organization says 

This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ominous public warning about a rare pneumonia that killed five previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles.

A year later in 1982, the real cause of the deaths was discovered — a comprehensive immune system disorder called AIDS — and no one since has forgotten about it.

But a group of San Francisco organizations is worried that as HIV/AIDS transitions from a short-term mass killer to a long-term terminal but somewhat treatable condition, the public might be getting “fatigued” from fighting it.

The Wednesday night launch of a website called 30AIDS.org kicked off a yearlong fundraising push, and a call for people to submit 30-second videos about their experience with the virus. The site also encourages simple actions such as giving out 30 condoms, donating $30 to research efforts or meeting with an AIDS sufferer for 30 minutes.

Speakers from some of the 17 organizations that make up 30AIDS held a news conference Thursday morning at the San Francisco LGBT Center and said the virus is “still here” and still factors into the fabric of San Francisco. They praised the efforts of The City so far to reduce infections and raise awareness.

“As a person with HIV, I want to be here,” said the board chairman for AIDS Medicine and Miracles, Greg Cassin, who was diagnosed with HIV 25 years ago. “Each one of us is all about breaking that sense of isolation and bringing people together.”

Gayle Burns, the interim executive director of the Native American AIDS Project, said the younger generation of gay men might not understand the dangers of the disorder like those who watched their friends and family die in numbers in the 80s and 90s.

“They think they can go out and party and play, and just take a pill,” Burns said. “People are still testing positive.”

But Steve Gibson, director of the Castro District’s Magnet Clinic that does 4,500 free HIV tests annually, warned against applying generational stereotypes to the disorder.

“It’s a different epidemic now,” Gibson said. “Yes, they didn’t see their friends die like the older generation, but we can’t maintain a crisis mentality over decades.”

San Francisco Department of Public Health statistics show that while the total number of people in San Francisco living with HIV/AIDS is increasing, the number of cases diagnosed in recent years is dropping. The number of diagnosed cases reported in 2010 was 257, down from 315 in 2009 and 414 in 2008. At the height of HIV/AIDS in 1989, the number of diagnosed cases was 2,161.



Disease timeline

  • June 5, 1981 The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issues a warning about a rare lung infection in five gay men in Los Angeles.
  • 1982 Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is established as a name for the illness.
  • 1985 World Health Organization issues first blood test for HIV.
  • 1989 At the peak of infection, the number of reported AIDS cases in America reaches 100,000.
  • 1992 AIDS becomes the number-one cause of death for U.S. men ages 25 to 44.
  • 1997 Due to new drugs, AIDS-related deaths drop 47 percent compared to 1996.
  • 2003 President George W. Bush announces the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
  • 2006 Once-daily single-pill regimen Atripla is approved.
  • 2010 U.S. lifts HIV travel and immigration ban.
  • June 5, 2011 30 years since the first AIDS cases reported.

Source: www.30aids.org

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Dan Schreiber

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