Public Health Enemy No. 1

Around ASF Blog
Volume 1 / Entry 9
April 6, 2012

Hello friends,

This month marks the 25th anniversary of then-President Ronald Reagan’s acceptance and announcement that AIDS was public health enemy number 1 in the US. By that time, literally thousands of people in the country, mostly men who had sex with men or intravenous drug users, had succumbed to the disease.

We now know that AIDS had been lurking relatively silently in Africa for decades before that and had killed hundreds of thousands there. An extremely small percentage of the AIDS deaths in Africa could be attributed to homosexual sex or intravenous drug use.

The lightning-fast spread of the disease in Africa can be partly attributed to the false belief, highly-touted in the US, that AIDS was a gay disease. People believed the propaganda that it couldn’t be transmitted through vaginal sex. Also of importance during this time was the fact that circumcision was relatively uncommon in many African nations (the porous tissue removed during circumcision is far more susceptible to the transmission of HIV). These issues allowed the disease to run rampant through the continent.

HIV and AIDS have fallen far from the public eye since then. However, the epidemic continues. Even though we know how to defend ourselves against it, the disease still persists in proliferating. Our millennial generation didn’t live through the “plague” of AIDS and doesn’t see it as the potential killer it really is. Because life-sustaining medications are available, AIDS today seems like a manageable, chronic disease.

There are pockets of infection in the US that rival the rates of those in sub-Saharan Africa (especially among black women) but, just like in the 1980’s, the situation there is far worse than it is here at home. World-wide, AIDS should still be public health enemy no.1.

25 years after the Reagan administration realized there was a problem, it’s important to remember that there’s still a problem. And it’s important to look forward to achieving our goal of the first generation, since the turn of the 20th century, without AIDS.

Thanks for reading!

Marc Montminy
Director of Communications and Public Relations

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