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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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By the end of 1997 it seemed as though everyone was jumping on the HAART bandwagon. We all believed that by taking the "cocktail" for several years we would be cured. HIV would be eradicated. However, in 1998 hopes that HIVers could avoid lifelong treatment with the potent and toxic antiretrovirals were shattered, as we learned that HIV could hide in cellular reservoirs for 60 years essentially untouched by the new wonder drugs.

HIV can hide for 60 years.

In addition we began to notice unanticipated and bizarre side effects possibly related to the new second generation anti-HIV drugs.

Unusual Body Changes: A Possible Side Effect of Anti-HIV Treatment?

Larry Kramer

Generally speaking we hoped and assumed second-generation products would be more effective and less toxic than their first generation counterparts. That's not always the case. Check out the cover of this issue of Time Magazine. There you will notice a second-generation product that was unquestionably more toxic than its first-generation counterpart.

Image 57: Time Magazine (Bush Dynasty)

Time Magazine (Bush Dynasty)

Complacency, Apathy, Silence (1998-2009)

Once pop culture trends peak they generally fade into obscurity relatively quickly -- avocado green shag carpets, Sony Walkmans, Chia Pets, disco music ... I'm sure you get my point. HIV/AIDS as a popular culture phenomenon appeared to have run its course by the late 1990s. With pharmaceutical cocktails more readily available and Magic Johnson looking fit and healthy it seemed that AIDS was no longer an imminent threat, let alone a clear and present danger. Americans quickly lapsed into complacency. Somehow HIV/AIDS had transitioned almost overnight back to an "us and them" issue. Reading media reports it seemed as if HIV/AIDS now only affected people in Africa. Gen-Y kids never knew a world without HIV/AIDS and seemed not to fear it. Gen-Xers considered it ancient history and had turned their attention to other concerns, such as global warming.

There was a short-lived media blitz in 2002 when an HIV-positive Muppet was introduced to the Sesame Street shows in Africa. Media reports gave the impression that Kami, the lovable furry HIV-positive Muppet, was proposed for the American version of the program.

Kami the HIV-positive Muppet.

Conservatives went wacko and Republican members of Congress threatened to withhold funds from PBS if the HIV-positive Muppet joined the American show. There was also a brief flurry of media in 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the Vatican's opposition to condoms, claiming that using condoms actually increases the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Peep Show Pope

Scientists, world health organizations and the LGBT community condemned the Pope's comments, but the general public really paid little attention to Kami's story of being banned in America or the Pope's outrageous comments.

It's interesting to note that when the mere threat of avian flu, SARS or radiation wafting across the Pacific Ocean from a damaged nuclear reactor in Japan can set off coast-to-coast panic and prompt the Federal Government to draw up contingency plans and stockpile medicines, Americans have become increasingly apathetic about an incurable disease that is transmitted by man's and woman's all-time favorite pastime! Sex! Today's over-1,100,000 HIV-infected Americans have become invisible. That every 9.5 minutes another American is infected or that half of all new infections in the U.S. are in young adults between the ages of 13 to 24 just doesn't seem to matter anymore. And the devastating consequences of the AIDS pandemic worldwide is no longer considered newsworthy. When was the last time you saw a magazine cover like this Newsweek cover from over a decade ago?

Newsweek: 10 Million Orphans

In 2008 the CDC released new HIV case estimates, showing the U.S. epidemic is worse than previously thought. The news media and most Americans hardly noticed the announcement.

What I've learned and wish to remind other generations is that cultural change is difficult. Africa is still poor; large parts of Asia are still in denial; and America is distracted by yet another war. The Internet has given us unprecedented real-time access to the world and has taught us to think globally; however, 10 million AIDS orphans wandering in the dust of sub-Saharan Africa move us to no more than a shake of the head and sigh. Headlines have moved on. Celebrities have taken up more glitzy causes.

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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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