It was World AIDS Day on Monday (December 1st), the annual global health day dedicated to raising awareness about the virus, supporting the people who live with it and remembering those who have died.
According to the World AIDS Day website, around 100,000 people are currently living with HIV in the UK. Across the world, an estimated 34 million people have HIV and, since it was first clinically observed in 1981 in California, 39 million have died from it.
Though we still have a long way to go, recent scientific research suggests that the virus is becoming less deadly. A study by the University of Oxford, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, focused on more than 2,000 HIV+ women from South Africa and Botswana. It found that as the virus adapted to the human immune system, it weakened itself in the process, and thus, took longer to transition to AIDS.
Elsewhere in the world, campaigns are working to reduce the number of infections and deaths. San Francisco’s ‘get to zero’ programme aims to reach ‘zero new HIV infections, zero deaths from HIV/AIDS and zero stigma’. It’s a city that has worked tirelessly to confront the epidemic, as reported in TIME Magazine’s excellent article ‘The End of AIDS’ – “since 2010, the percentage of HIV-positive people in the city who are taking ARVs and have undetectable levels of HIV in their blood – which means they are unlikely to pass on the virus – has increased from 56% to 68% in 2012. Nationally, only 25% to 28% of patients fall in this category.”
Of course, San Francisco was home to Randy Shilts, author of Stonewall Book Award-winning And the Band Played On. This definitive history charts the spread of the AIDS epidemic from the very beginning in 1976 to 1985, with a briefer look at the events after 1985 that brought this disease to international attention. A masterpiece of investigative journalism, it weaves together over 1000 personal stories of those in the gay community and medical and political establishments. Together with his social and political reporting, Shilts also exposes how AIDS was ignored, or denied, by many national institutions.
Though he was tested for HIV whilst working on And the Band Played On, he refused to find out his diagnosis until after he’d finished writing. In 1987, Shilts learned that he was HIV+. The year before his death in 1994, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists’ Association.
And the Band Played On is part of Souvenir Press’ Independent Voices Series, dedicated to publishing writers who provide alternative viewpoints and challenge conventional wisdom, making available work that has been unavailable in the UK although it is as relevant today as on its original publication.
Buy a copy of And the Band Played On here.