Archive for May 12th, 2010|Daily archive page

And the Band Played On…

In Books on May 12, 2010 at 10:18 am

I just finished reading one of the most engaging books I’ve ever read – And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts.  As indicated by the title, this book vividly portrays and honest retrospective evaluation of the history of the AIDS epidemic in America and how multiple parties conscientious negligence of the issue lead to the needless loss of hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives and further diffusion of the disease that could have been dampered.  Shilts took no prisoners and placed blame on everyone – from the press that chose to ignore the disease until it started plaguing mainstream America, to the scientific community who allowed egos to get in the way of progressive research, to blood banks who didn’t want to lose profit rather than save lives, and to even members of the gay community who ignored warnings to stop dangerous sexual practices to avoid spreading the disease instead favoring sexual liberation, to finally, the US government.

As you can imagine, our lovely governmented failed astronomically with this situation.  In short, Reagan failed with AIDS much how Bush failed with Katrina. Random tangent: Did people really like Reagan? I don’t get it… (imo) Reaganomics failed, (fact) the “war on drugs” initiated by him is a waste of a lot of money and energy that could be better dispensed elsewhere, AND (fact) because of his personal inaction and his administration’s determination to divert necessary funds away from anything pertaining to AIDS hundreds of thousands senselessly died.

As I tore through the pages, I was nearly brought to tears on numerous occassions. One was the stories of the numerous AIDS babies being born that were neglected by the government and hospitals because they refused to believe that this “gay disease” [fyi: AIDS was originally called GRIDS (gay-related immune deficiency) by our government] was anything but a curse on this one population of people. They continued to deny that AIDS was causing the deaths of IV drug users, babies, and hemophiliacs (a class of people heavily reliant on blood transfusions at the time), even after it was the proved cause proved.  I read tear-jerking stories of people going into hospitals, having surgical complications necessitating blood transfusions, and being transfused with HIV-infected blood that could have easily been screened out had Blood Banks been ethical leaders and not money-hungry businessmen. I could continue with the stories, but the point is that day after day for nearly a decade (~1978-88) AIDS and its victims were swept under a rug of indifference woven by our nations’ leaders in health, media, and politics.  It was not until the disease started affecting Hollywood and non-minority heterosexual that the media and the goverment decided it was an important enough issue to address.

I’m not going to lie, by the time I finished reading this book (forewarning, it’s rather thick to get through, but definitely worth it), I was p.o.’ed at our government, yet again.  How many times throughout history do we have to see our government pruposefully neglecting the rights and needs of certain populations within our borders because they are not in the majority, and therefore are apparently less important constituents?!? This theme was clearly repeated in Katrina and even as recently as his ridiculous legalized racial profiling in Arizona. When will the government start treating us all like we’re all citizen of the human race with lives that are valuable, rather than separate and unequal?? For a nation that has a “Christian” founding, declaring statements such as “In God we trust” and “one nation, under God,” and a nation that has yet to see a non-“Christian” Prseident, we have a horrid legacy of treating people as anything less than children of God. I put the word Christian in quotes because I’m a firm believer that there’s a difference between the regilion and the personal relationship with God.  Based on history, I have my doubts about the sincerity of this religious affliation in the lives of our nation’s leaders. I think it’s just one more thing on their resume that qualifies them for the position. [end tangent]

I think I found the book particularly interesting for a few reasons.  First, as boring as I found history in high school, as I age, I am finding increasing value in it.  I’m not sure if it’s just life’s struggles that have pushed me to this point, but I gather so much more from historical accounts now than I did in my teens years. Then again, reading a boring, biased textbook is a lot difference than reading book on a topic of interest to you. Secondly, the fact that all this was developing while I was being born makes it particularly interesting to me.  I remember all the AIDS awareness coomericals and advertisements I saw in my youth, and now…it’s almost as if the disease doesn’t exist. Or, maybe because treatment has been so successful (re: Magic Johnson..I debate whether he really has HIV…or maybe a cure?) that the disease has lost much of its bite and scare of the 80s. Clearly, we know AIDS is here to stay, but people are much less concerned with it now than they were back in the 70s and 80s, when people were popping uup with the disease only to fall down dead just as quickly.  Imagine how scary it had to be back then.

Just think, the first real test for HIV antibodies was implemented in 1985 – the same year I was born.  After reading this book, I truly feel blessed to even be alive today.  Who knows what emergency situation could have arisen in my life or in the lives of my parents that would have landed them in the emergency room, possibly receiving infected blood. I could have been born an AIDS baby had circumstances played out differently. From a public health human perspective, it is arguably the most detrimental event to hit our nation.

Clearly, I highly recommend reading this book. It’s thick, but worth the investment of time if you can find it at a used bookstore or on Amazon (I found mine for a few dollars online).  Alternatively, if you’re not a reader, the talented, late Mr. Aaron Spelling directed an HBO movie by the same name, which I’ve heard great things about.

What I still cannot for the life of me wrap my head around is how a disease that started in America as a disease plaguing White homosexual men now hits hardest amongst Black heterosexual females. Riddle me that.