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The End of HIV/AIDS: 100 Years From Now

Let's imagine for a moment that it's 100 years in the future, and HIV was cured many years ago. What do you think the history books will say about the HIV pandemic?

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Julie Scofield

(2 min.)
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Julie Scofield, Executive Director, National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors

The question of how we're going to look back on the epidemic 100 years from now, after we've cured the disease, is a really interesting one to ponder. I actually think when we look back at it, we'll understand that in really tackling this incredible disease, we had to look beyond the virus itself; we had to look beyond the particular individuals and communities that were affected and look at the context of people's lives and the other aspects of what is going on in our society and culture that put people at risk for the disease.

At the end of the day, I hope we'll be able to look back and say we made progress at conquering racism in our country because we were fighting the AIDS epidemic, that we made progress fighting homophobia in our country because we were trying to end the AIDS epidemic. I think the same is true around issues of sexism and the empowerment of women in our country. I think there are so many other issues that, with any luck, we'll say that we really improved the context of people's lives. We tackled issues of substance use and stigma and all of those other conditions that put people at risk. I would be very proud to look back and say that we made a difference in that way.

Sigga M. Jagne

(3 min.)
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Sigga M. Jagne, HIV/AIDS Program Director, Kentucky Department of Public Health

A hundred years from now when we've finally beaten HIV and there's no more HIV pandemic: Wouldn't that be wonderful to think about! What the history books will say is that there were some key lessons learned about humanity, because this disease, as we look at it from its progression back from the 1980s when it first surfaced as GRID (gay-related immune disease), the public health response was not adequate at all. Why? Because it was seen as a gay disease and because it was their disease -- those people on the outskirts of society. The public health response was not adequate. What happened then was that as the disease shifted to other populations, as it is now, more mainstream -- affecting African Americans, white women, non-gay men, as well as other racial and ethnic groups -- what began to happen was that we realized that we were not focused on this disease and it gradually crept into these other aspects of society.

What HIV teaches us is that we need to pay attention to anything that affects a neighbor, because eventually in a global way it's going to affect every single one of us. [HIV has affected] the African-American community in particular. Even though they make up 13 percent of the population, for example, they make up 50 percent of the disease burden in the U.S. Those underlying factors that existed before the disease came along -- poverty, illiteracy, people that are underinsured, low access to health care, etc. -- are the things that are propelling diseases, regardless of what it is, HIV in particular. If we can address those particular issues -- whether it's poverty, whether it's racism, whether it is non-empowerment of a certain group of people, whether it is historical biases, whether it is poor access to quality health care -- if we can address those, we can address a greater part of what HIV does to individuals. I think what we will learn, what the history books will say, is that the way we conquered AIDS is by addressing those underlying factors, those human factors that bring us down as human beings. When we begin to address those we begin to conquer all.

Kambe Mwale Lattimore

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Kambe Mwale Lattimore, Policy and Planning, Kentucky Department of Public Health

What is the biggest lesson that humanity will take away when HIV has been beaten, 100 years from now? I think that policymakers, some of the policymakers of today, their names will go down in history as people who did not concern themselves enough with the issue. I think they felt it was an attempt at futility. It didn't affect them or their immediate families, so they turned their backs on it. I think it will be very shameful. It will be like the civil rights movement, 40, 50 years later. Things that were acceptable back then are appalling today. Their attitudes and reactions will be looked upon that way. It will be seen as despicable.

Good thing, in 100 years HIV has been eradicated. It's manageable. Humanity is resilient. We are resourceful, and we don't give up hope. I think it's that hope that's so important today. A hundred years from now, we'll be able to say it was worth it. It was definitely worth us not giving up.

Kirk Arthur

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Kirk Arthur, Green Family Health Initiative, University of Miami, Department of Pediatrics

I'm imagining that 100 years from now we are going to look back at the HIV epidemic as the first time that we realized that science does not have the answer for everything, that biology and evolution will always make us vulnerable to something. I think it really taught us our humanity. It taught us about dignity. It taught us that problems that affect groups that are marginalized continue to fester. Unless a problem affects the larger population, nothing gets done about it until the problem gets too big and it can't be solved. I think HIV is the perfect example: The horses got out of the barn and nobody really cared until it killed too many horses, the barn, the farm, the whole thing.

A hundred years ago, I think HIV really taught us a lesson, that nature will prevail. In particular for the gay community, I hope that people remember that a whole generation of people was lost and that talent and beauty and humanity were lost that can never really be quantified. So many wonderful artists and visionaries passed away. The names are as long as the AIDS Quilt. It was a very hard time. I'm glad HIV has been cured now.

Karl Knapper

(1 min.)
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Karl Knapper, Connect HIV Project Manager, L.I.F.E. Institute

If I had to say, responding to what I thought history books will say about the AIDS pandemic, looking back 100 years from now, I'd say that they reflect both the best and the worst in humanity: The best in the way that people and communities rose to the occasion to try to fight this on a community-based level, and to really help each other to overcome this disease; the worst in the way it brought out some of the most horrible bigotry, prejudice and ignorance in humanity, in the way we deal with each other.

The one thing that I think, optimistically: I hope in 100 years we learn from this to never let something like this happen again. The same way that people always say about the Holocaust, "Never again, never again," I'm hoping people will say about the HIV epidemic, that, "Never again will we allow ourselves to behave this way around a public health emergency like this."

Kali Lindsey

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Kali Lindsey, Program Manager, National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA)

I think the history books will say HIV and AIDS was the one unifying factor that changed America. I think that HIV has taught people that there is no discrimination outside of who we see face-to-face. HIV has crossed all the boundary lines, right? It's crossed race, it's crossed socio-economic background, it's crossed into every facet of American society. When we look back, we're going to say all these times we've been trying to appreciate people in separate bubbles, when we should have been appreciating the collective human experience and trying to react appropriately to the entire body of human beings.

Beny J. Primm

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Beny J. Primm, Founder and Executive Director, Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation

I think, when you look at where it comes from, the origin of this virus, that we expect in 100 years that it will be just like it is in the simian species; that it will be present in some of us. We will, all or some of us, have antibodies, and we'll be resistant to the long-term effects of HIV-1 and HIV-2. Therefore, it may be even just dormant within our bodies, like it is now in the chimpanzee and in the sooty mangabey monkey.

How will they look at how humanity acted during the HIV pandemic?

I think we have acted quite well, in response. I think ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, the whole gay movement, have put us far ahead of what we would have been if it had not affected the gay population. I think the gay population, with their political savvy, their money and their imaginative ways of making things happen and move fast, even to the point of being unruly, [was very effective]. I think we will be looked upon as [people] who moved very fast to take care of an epidemic and the pan-epidemic that's taking place now.


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D-Rob, Good Samaritan Project

Ooh. [Laughing.] That's a good question. It really is, because the impact that HIV had on our communities 26 years ago, 25 -- it had a devastating impact on our communities. People ran. People turned their backs on family members. People were dying alone. People were just throwing up their hands, giving up and turning to drugs and suicide and everything, because they didn't know how to deal with that epidemic. I think that would be the most emotional story in our history, if someone was able to really just gather the information, the data, and share it, along with the struggle, from the beginning to the end.

Marie Pierre-Louis

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Marie Pierre-Louis, Haitian Centers Council

As Sheryl [Lee Ralph] said, as long as we still have hatred and bigotry and sexism, and all those -isms, HIV is going nowhere. For us to beat HIV, meaning we have done away with all those things, something people in 100 years will say is, "Wow, they really came together and got rid of those." Because if we don't do that, it's going nowhere. As long as one person has HIV, the whole world is at risk. In 100 years, if HIV has to go, we have to really come together.

Precious Jackson

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Precious Jackson, Women's Program Director, Center for Health Justice

I think the history books will say that HIV was a plague that hit the United States in the early '80s and 26 years into the epidemic it became worldwide, and that it killed more people than any other disease has killed. Hopefully, I would wish that humanity would learn compassion, having non-judgmental attitudes, and that by that time the cure will not just be segmented towards a targeted group; it will be for everybody.

These people were interviewed at the 2007 United States Conference on AIDS in Palm Springs, Calif.

Listen to a compilation of everyone's answers:

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