World AIDS Day – Think Positive: Rethink HIV

Think Postive: Rethink HIV

Today (Tuesday 1st December) is World AIDS Day, 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 – and 18,000 of those are unaware or undiagnosed. Across the world, an estimated 34 million people have HIV. Since it was first identified in 1984, over 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, which makes it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

Charlie Sheen’s recent interview on NBC’s Today programme reminded us that the virus hasn’t gone away. Still, progress is being made; 15 million people were receiving ART, or antiretroviral therapy, at the start of 2015, compared to one million in 2001.

Randy Shilts is the 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-On1

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.

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts is available in paperback (ISBN: 9780285640191) and eBook (ISBN: 9780285640764), £18.

For further reading, see UNAIDSWorld AIDS Day and WHO.

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World AIDS Day 2014: Let’s Get To Zero

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 by Randy Shilts

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.

For further reading, see UNAIDS, World AIDS Day and WHO.

World AIDS Day 2013

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.

LGBT History Month

February is LGBT History Month here in the UK – a month dedicated to celebrating the lives and achievements of the LGBT community. And what better reason to celebrate than to look at the huge amount of progress made in the fight against HIV and AIDS since its origins in the late 1970s/early 1980s?

When AIDS was claiming the lives of its first sufferers in 1980s America, it was largely ignored as a ‘homosexual problem’ – the ‘gay plague’ was of little concern or interest to many of the health professionals, politicians, or members of the public.

When the numbers of deaths kept rising, it wasn’t until heterosexual members of the public were at risk that the media sat up and started to pay attention. Only when it became clear that AIDS could be transferred through blood transfusions did people start to listen. But this delay cost lives. Thousands of them. Maybe hundreds of thousands.

At the start of the month, former New York City mayor Ed Koch died at the age of 88. He was mayor in NYC at the time of the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and did practically nothing about it. Certainly, nothing that cost money, nothing concrete. Theories abound regarding his sexuality – whether his lack of action around the AIDS epidemic was to keep his own sexuality under wraps by paying little attention to the ‘gay health crisis’. Whatever the reason, it is clear that his lack of real, decisive action cost the lives of many thousands of New Yorkers. (For more information about Ed Koch and his AIDS legacy, this article is well worth a read)

But how far we have come, medically, socially and politically. In the UK there is comprehensive medical care available, including taking care of your mental health as well as your physical health. (Please note: I have no first-hand experience of this – my only knowledge is through following this blog, and his related Twitter account.) We have openly gay celebrities, sportsmen and sportswomen, even MPs. While we do not yet have laws in place that will allow equal marriage, steps have been made in the right direction. Civil partnerships are a start, but many believe they don’t go far enough. Whatever your personal beliefs, it is clear that the progress being made is real, and that it will continue.

This February for LGBT History Month I will be celebrating how much progress has been made here in the UK for the gay community, particularly in terms of health and health education. What about you?

Related reading:

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON by Randy Shilts. The definitive history of the origins and spread of AIDS in the 1980s. A masterpiece of investigative journalism, a book that will stay with you for a long time.

CITY OF NIGHT by John Rechy. The book that lifted the lid on the gay sexual subculture in 1960s America. A groundbreaking novel and an enduring classic.

And the Band Played On by Randy ShiltsCity of Night by John Rechy

World AIDS Day 2012: What will you be reading?

December 1st is World AIDS Day, an opportunity to raise awareness and to unite people the world over in the fight against HIV and AIDS. As the world looks forwards, searching for a cure for AIDS, we must also remember to look back, to see where this disease came from.

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON by Randy Shilts is the definitive history of the spread of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, which brought this disease to international attention. From 1982 Shilts devoted himself to covering the story of the disease and its medical, social and political implications. 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.

“An astounding piece of investigative journalism, a must-read for those who seek to understand the nature of this dark chapter in gay history.” — Attitude

“A heroic work of journalism on what must rank as one of the foremost catastrophes of modern history.” — The New York Times

Author Randy Shilts was the first openly gay journalist in America. While writing this book he refused to find out his own HIV status, for fear that the knowledge would compromise his journalistic integrity. Tragically, he was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987, after the completion of AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, and he died in 1994. His legacy remains: a frighteningly powerful report of the origins of the AIDS epidemic, essential reading for all.