World AIDS Day is an annual opportunity to raise awareness and to unite people the world over in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Only in the news this week were reports of another step towards finding a cure for HIV, with British scientists from five UK universities announcing a groundbreaking trial to take place next year to test a possible cure for HIV infection.
But the fight against HIV and AIDS has not always been embraced by the medical community. In the early years of the disease, as it spread through America in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a great deal of reluctance from all sides to step up and fund treatment or research for the disease. Seen initially as the “gay plague”, or a uniquely “homosexual disease”, the early response to the spread of the disease, or lack thereof, makes for shocking reading.
And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts is the definitive history of the spread of the AIDS epidemic from the very beginning in 1976 to 1985, with a briefer look at events after 1985 which brought this disease to international attention. A masterpiece of investigative journalism, weaving together the personal stories of those in the gay community and the medical and political establishments with political and social reporting, he exposes how AIDS was ignored, or denied, by many national institutions.
By the time President Reagan had delivered his first speech on the epidemic of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, on 31st May 1987, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with the disease; 20,849 had died.
And the Band Played On was awarded a Stonewall Book Award, and in 1993 Shilts was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists’ Association. Published as part of Souvenir Press’ Independent Voices series, dedicated to making available work that has been unavailable in the UK although it is as relevant today as on its original publication, it is also available as an e-book.
This World AIDS Day, take a look at the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and then you will understand just how far we have come in the fight against HIV and AIDS.