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The Gift of Life
AIDS @ 25: Personal Reflections on the Epidemic

By Steve Wakefield

May/June 2006

Steve Wakefield
Thanks for the gift of life and learning that has been the hallmark of my friendships with men and women living with HIV. At dinner after a TPAN lecture, I once told HIV-positive Dr. Leon McKusick that I was sorry to meet him because he was such a wonderful man. Before the end of the meal, this healer let me know "that loud screaming and yelling you hear inside is grief." The late Dr. McKusick helped me to understand the wealth of staying in this moment and enjoying the richness of human contact.

So when Jeff [Berry] asked me to speak to "25 years into the epidemic," my first reaction was gratitude. I wanted to run to the dance floor, shake my tambourine and kick up my heels to the "Unspeakable Joy" of being able to encounter so many who have so much to give.

Solutions to the HIV problem have always required the sound of "People with AIDS, Under Attack: What Do We Do? Act Up! Fight Back!" Continued vigilance may one day help us to see a cure or a vaccine or new weapons against this virus. The table scraps afforded by once-a-day treatments will not be enough to stave off this evolving plague. Collective human feistiness may keep our needs in front of those who can make a difference.

Scientists need resources. Scientific innovation that seeks a cure must be funded while new treatments are developed. We need each other. Current prevention messages and technologies are not delivered in ways that change behaviors despite telecommunications advances.

We need to put the public back in public health. One way would be to recognize humans as sexual beings and help them to incorporate what we know about the science of prevention. We have to make fewer partners and committed relationships sexy to the next generation. Support rational thinking. If gay marriage will help people reduce partners by providing supportive relationships, then only vote for those politicians who will fight for life. We have to help people know their status and make safer choices by protecting themselves and their partners.

We must continue to recognize life's rich moments, brief acquaintances, and powerful friendships. We need to acknowledge them, revel in them, and celebrate them, basking in their sunshine to make this day more bearable and receiving their power in preparation for tomorrow.

Steve Wakefield, a former executive director of Test Positive Aware Network, is associate director for community education of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.


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