PROF. STEVEN AMARNICK
The War on HIV/AIDS
Today we live in a world where majority of people are affected by a dangerous disease called HIV/AIDS. However, nowadays this kind of disease is not a big of a deal since science has adequately produced strong medicine to prevent the virus. However, if we look back, there is a time when millions of people were dying because science did not have cure for it and if they did it was way too expensive for people to get it. There were people who stood up and fought against AIDS and exposed government inaction. As I read the book “How to survive a plague” and watched the movie, I admire what AIDS activist did in the 1980s and 1990s. This paper seeks to analyze the various activist groups and movements and the roles that they played in combating the stigma as well as medical challenges that were faced by the people living with HIV/AIDS.
Since the eruption of the AIDS disease, those who were currently living with the disease requested that they may be involved in domestic, local and international public health policymaking. Recently, declarations signed by various world governments support their participation. Those infected as well as their allies have therefore come up with activist movements which are both global and local. Moreover, a number of these activist movements have managed to persuade their respective governments as well as societies to change their perspectives and responses to the AIDS pandemic.
Before we start talking about what activism has done to the community, I would like to talk about how it all started and where. The global movement originally emerged from the politics surrounding urban global communities residing in North America during the early 1980s. Gay men living with AIDS, which was then viewed as a disease of unknown etiology as well as sobering mortality, faced both the threat against their health as well as the stigma associated with the disease. Moreover, they had to live with a condition that was described by sociologists as “social death” (Smith 9). More specifically, undiagnosed gay men lived with the stigma that came with the disease. Consequently, the gay community political leaders began trying to address the stigma problem on behalf of the victims. However, only the gay men living with AIDS faced the problem of stigma which made them feel distinct and isolated from the other gay people around them.
The start of AIDS activism for and by the people who were living with HIV/AIDS started by addressing the problem of social death as well as the consequent tension responding to the disease. They believed that if the dangers associated with the threat were understood, the community would then mobilize and respond to it. However, if mortality became the ultimate feature of the disease, the diagnosed people faced the risk of social death even before the biological death. This argument was the political and social basis of the gay men living with HIV/AIDS. As much as the original political activities all took place among the gay community members, the activism eventually influences the various political tactics and concepts of all the people living with the disease; regardless of their sexual orientation. The reason is that the problem was later experienced by all people around the world.
The movement of individuals with HIV/AIDS was formally founded at a conference that was held in Denver, Colorado in 1983. The movement’s principle later came to be referred to as the “Denver Principles”. The movement was later described as the “Magna Carta of AIDS activism”. This movement called for the creation of a new relationship that should be between health care providers, the society and the people living with HIV/AIDS. More specifically, Michael Callen from New York and Bobbi Campbell from California were the leaders of a group of gay men living with AIDS in the conference. Their ideas’ influence later emerged as the voice of advocacy of people living with HIV/AIDS across the world. This was first in various formal associations and later in broad AIDS activist movements (Gamson 359).
Back then, the gay people were afraid to face the consequences of having affairs with the same gender. Especially when they were not allowed in the community and that’s why they didn’t know how to deal with the fact that men have feeling towards other men instead of woman. They didn’t know if the society will accept them having affairs with the same gender. According to David “Cox had begun his journey through the plague as a gay man at a time when most Americans supported laws criminalizing homosexuality” (David France 6). This means that the society used to see gay people as criminals and people therefore did not want to have any relationship with the gay community.
Act up was another group that decided to fight against HIV. The people who were part of the organization felt that they were not only fighting for other people who were infected with the AIDS disease but also those who were affected by AIDS. When AIDS first came out and Government denied helping people with the treatment, patients who were part of ACT UP decided to work on labs and come up with their own medicine to protect every patient who was infected by AIDS. David stated “Given only a few months to live. He threw himself into ACT UP, becoming a central player in the movement’s treatment+ Data committee, where patients and their advocates puzzled through the science of virology, chemistry and immunology” (David France 4). When people realized there was no one who will help them to get the treatment they threw themselves in science experiment to find treatments. They knew they would die because they didn’t have enough time to get the treatment but they hoped to find a treatment which would not only help them but also every victim who was infected by AIDS.
Activist did not have enough resources to make the medicine that they need for the AIDS patients. Additionally, it was difficult for them to get access to the drugs. One of the drugs they needed the most which was AZT. AZT is a drug that can treat HIV infection, which causes AIDS. ACT UP had to make a meeting with the Burroughs Wellcome who had access to AZT. The most important thing about the meeting was that Activist wanted Burroughs Wellcome to lower the price of AZT but they refused to lower the price which led the activists to come together and protest against Burroughs Wellcome. According to David, “Staley (one of the leaders of the activist group) was disappointed that Burroughs had refused to lower the prices, but he not surprised. He called together a close group of activists, including a number of ACT UP member outside of T+D, and proposed a fitting riposte” (David France 351). This means The Activist they were not expecting Burroughs Wellcome to lower the price but they were still trying their best to convince Burroughs Wellcome to lower the price of AZT.
As more people were dying from AIDS doctors who were working with ACT UP and other groups had to look for a better drug to fight against AIDS. They believed FDA already had the drug they need but FDA had denied giving it to them. For the activists, FDA was becoming the cause of people’s death by not giving out the drugs. This lead ACT UP and T+D group members protested against FDA. David tells us “And history will record the names of those have blocked access to lifesaving treatments to thousands of people with HIV and AIDS…At the top of that list will be those regulating ADIS drugs at the FDA’’ (David France 327). If we look back then and until now the government hasn’t done anything to save people from AIDS. People always had the hope that government would be the first party that would help people to survive by providing them with all the resources that they needed. However, since they were denied the resources and help, they believed they had no other choice than fighting against the government in order to get what they sought; which is to live a longer life.
Overall, the time when AIDS first started millions of people were dying because science did not have the required treatments and patients weren’t getting enough help from the government. This led many people come together and make organizations such Denver Principles, ACT UP and T+D to fight against AIDS and the various governments. They also made different protest for different causes but they were all connected to save people from AIDS. I believe that what the activists did was the right thing to do to protect their family and friends. Also the book and movie helps us to learn how to protest or get something from government. One problem the world facing now is war which killing millions of innocent people and the world ignoring it. It’s not about what religion we are from and what race but instead, it’s about humanity. We should utilize the same approach of protests as ACT UP to stop the United States from bombing countries who did not do anything wrong.
Smith, Raymond A., and Patricia D. Siplon. Drugs into bodies: global AIDS treatment activism. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.
Gamson, Josh. “Silence, death, and the invisible enemy: AIDS activism and social movement “newness”.” Social problems 36.4 (1989): 351-367
How to survive a plague,by David France,September 21, 2012, page 6.
How to survive a plague,by David France,September 21, 2012, page 4.
How to survive a plague,by David France,September 21, 2012, page 351.
How to survive a plague,by David France,September 21, 2012, page 327.
You write clearly throughout the essay, and you do an especially good job showing why ACT UP protested against Burroughs Wellcome and the FDA. You’ll need to talk about at least one more protest, and to provide more commentary/analysis about all of them, but you’ve laid a solid foundation here. Think about these five things as you work on your revision:
I look forward to seeing how this essay continues to grow and develop!
- Your essay needs a more complicated, thought-provoking thesis. It’s not enough just to say that you approve of the activists. Unfortunately, I believe you missed our class (April 20th) when we practiced how to write a strong thesis. But I can at least give you a brief summary when I see you on Friday.
- I’m glad to see you give some context about the AIDS epidemic, as you do in your second paragraph. However, what you say is not quite accurate. The book makes it clear that the spread of HIV—at least among the men who purposely moved to cities like New York and San Francisco—was not primarily because of “secret relationships.” And in the next paragraph you say that ACT UP was the first group to fight against AIDS. Go back to the David France book; you will see that there are many chapters in it before ACT UP comes along. Indeed, it would be valuable to give some context about those pre-ACT UP years. What might you say, for instance, about Gay Men’s Health Crisis? Make use of your reading to show that you have become knowledgeable about this issue.
- On page two you include a quotation about someone with only a few months to live. Who are you talking about? On page three you mention that Staley was disappointed. Who is Staley? What specifically was he disappointed about? Make sure that you provide enough context before your quotations, so that we can understand them clearly. Also, refer to the author by his last name (France), not first name (David).
- You do a good job making it clear why these protests occurred, but there is very little about what happened during the actual protests. Pull out key details that you can summarize/paraphrase/quote.
- In our class last Friday (April 27th), we spent a lot of time on what to say after telling us what happened during a protest. Avoid rephrasing the quotation or stating the obvious. On page three, for instance, your final sentences about Burroughs Wellcome tell us what we already know.