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Three Decades of HIV/AIDS, Part Three

Mainstreaming ... (1995-1998) Through ... Reality (2010-2011)

By Bob Frascino, M.D.

July 27, 2011

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This is Part Three of a three-part blog entry; read Part One and Part Two of the series.

Mainstreaming and Irrational Exuberance (1995-1998)

The HIV/AIDS wave crested in the mid-nineties and the once underground disease had now become mainstream. Most Americans were talking about condoms and safer sex without embarrassment. Greg Louganis disclosed he had HIV/AIDS.

Greg Louganis.

Ordinary people put together quilt patches, each the size of a coffin, forming the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which ultimately became the largest piece of art ever created. It was displayed in Washington in 1996 where its 40,000 panels covered the entire National Mall.

AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, D.C.

In the early nineties we, the positively charged, knew we were sailing a sinking ship. In all honesty we prepared to die and the media often referred to us as victims. I was labeled a "Casualty of War" in a San Jose Mercury News Magazine cover article because at the time survival really wasn't a viable option for HIVers.

West Magazine: Casualty of War

Mass media, pop culture and we assumed that if science were to defeat HIV/AIDS, it would come too late for us. Our view of the future was the AIDS crisis would continue to gain momentum and notoriety. We felt confident the rapidly amplifying cry for cure, care and support services would become logarithmically louder and more persuasive. We imagined ignorance and stigma would be replaced by knowledge, reason and compassion. None of these things actually occurred.

In mid-1996 highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) became available and dramatically decreased AIDS morbidity and mortality. This scientific breakthrough was a game-changer that changed not only the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS crisis, but also the perception of the illness. HIV/AIDS suddenly became "a chronic manageable condition." (I have blogged on this misnomer previously.) Mass media and pop culture enthusiastically spread the good news. Dr. David Ho, an AIDS researcher, was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1997.

David Ho

By 1998 AIDS deaths were cut in half.

San Francisco Chronicle AIDS Deaths Cut in Half.

Newsweek Magazine claimed we were "Taming the AIDS Virus."

Newsweek: Taming the AIDS Virus

Gay and HIV-positive characters in film and television were now applauded, not shunned, as demonstrated by Tom Hanks's Oscar win for his role in Philadelphia. Once ostracized by NBA players after he announced his HIV-positive status, Magic Johnson played in the NBA All-Stars game and the Olympics.

Newsweek: Magic Johnson

AIDS no longer appeared to be the threat it once was. The New York Times and Newsweek pondered the end of AIDS in cover stories.

New York Times: When AIDS Ends

Newsweek: The End of AIDS?

The first large-scale AIDS vaccine trial was announced with considerable fanfare.

Large Scale Test of AIDS Vaccine to Begin in 1999

I was no longer depicted as a dying casualty of war in media releases.

Lifetimes 2, Bob Frascino

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See Also
Three Decades of HIV/AIDS: Are You Ready to Dance?
Three Decades of HIV/AIDS, Part Two
20 Years of Magic: How One Man's HIV Disclosure Inspired Others
More on the 30th Anniversary of AIDS


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Life, Love, Sex, HIV and Other Unscheduled Events

Bob Frascino, M.D., was President and Founder of The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation. He had been an outspoken, popular expert in's "Ask the Experts" forums on safe sex and fatigue/anemia since 2000. Once a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Frascino served as Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Immunology, Rheumatology, and Allergy, at Stanford University Medical Center from 1983 until 2001. He was a member of the American Academy of HIV Medicine and had also been a distinguished member of the executive boards of numerous state and regional associations.

We're inexpressibly saddened to share the news that Dr. Frascino passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. Click here to read more and to share your thoughts.

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