Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In Loving Memory: World AIDS Day - History and Tribute

Today is World AIDS Day, first established in 1987 by James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter, two public information officers for the United Nations Global Program on AIDS at the United Nations World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

This year there is even greater cause for celebration as the United Nations World Health Organization - Joint Program on HIV/AIDS and global scientists unveiled a drug that reduces the chances of infection for gay and bisexual men. (see related official blog post)

However, no one and nothing can replace the millions who have died from this global epidemic, and no apology is sufficient from the United States government for turning a blind eye during the initial stages of the epidemic.

HIV/AIDS was initially called the "gay cancer" and ignored by the highest levels of the United States government. Only the Departments of Public Health in the states of California and New York immediately responded to the initial outbreak of the "gay cancer."

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention couldn't squeeze a dime out of Regan Administration for the "gay cancer" until straight people began contracting the disease, eventually realizing that global blood supplies, ready for patient transfusions during routine surgeries carried the disease and there was no way to test for the disease or know what blood was infected.

Ryan Wayne White, a teenager from the state of Indiana became the poster child for HIV/AIDS in the United States, after being expelled from middle school in 1984 because of his infection. A hemophiliac, he became infected with HIV from contaminated blood.

The perception that the disease was a "gay cancer" shifted as Ryan White and other prominent HIV-infected people, such as Magic Johnson, the Ray brothers and Kimberly Bergalis, appeared in the media to advocate for more AIDS research and public education to address the epidemic.

The U.S. Congress passed a major piece of AIDS legislation, the Ryan White Care Act, shortly after White's death in 1990.  Until 1990, only States, celebrities, and private companies provided significant funding for HIV/AIDS research. 

The "gay cancer" was officially named Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the final stages of the virus, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the initial stages.

AIDS killed more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 according to United Nations World Health Organization estimates, and it is estimated that 33.2 million people live with the disease worldwide, including 330,000 children.

In total, the United Nations estimates that 60 million people have been infected, leaving 14 million orphaned children.

AIDS stigma still exists around the world in a variety of ways, including ostracism, rejection, discrimination and avoidance of HIV infected people. During the 2010 Legislative Session, the Kentucky House of Representatives again failed to renew funding for the Kentucky AIDS Drug Assistance Program despite pleas from Kentucky Equality Federation and 11 other organizations, placing hundreds on a "waiting list" to die because they cannot afford the life saving medication without government assistance.

WATCH: History Uncut - Ryan White in 1986 In this clip from "History Uncut", Ryan White describes his experience returning to school after being diagnosed with AIDS.

We give thanks to the following celebrities who made significant contributions to AIDS awareness, held fundraisers, or made personal visits to homes or hospitals to visit patients:
  • Diana, Princess of Wales, who visited hospitals with HIV patients not only in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations but around the world, and against the advice of her security detail, touched (and even hugged) HIV infected patients.
  • Elizabeth Taylor, an international legend (actress), who held countless fundraisers for HIV/AIDS research.  By 2001, Taylor had raised over $60 million dollars for HIV/AIDS research. Taylor helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), as well as her own AIDS foundation, the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF).  
  • Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop," who visited Ryan White personally and successfully pleaded with the Clinton Administration to increase AIDS research funding.  Jackson also personally donated money to AIDS research and held fundraisers.
  • Sir Elton John, an international legend (singer and piano player), who visited Ryan White personally, has held countless fundraisers for HIV/AIDS research, written songs, and created his own private AIDS foundation.
  • Tom Burch, Representative in the Kentucky House of Representatives and Chairman of the House Health and Welfare CommitteeRepresentative Burch, has served the Commonwealth of Kentucky since 1972; Representative Burch sponsored or co-sponsored most of the Commonwealth's HIV/AIDS awareness, education, and prevention legislation. (give special thanks to Representative Burch)

The following celebrities died from AIDS and raised international awareness of the disease:
  • Amanda Blake (Died at 60 years old), Best known for playing Kitty Russell in the television series Gunsmoke.
  • Tom Fuccello (Died at 56 years old), best known for playing Senator Dave Culver from in the television series Dallas.
  • Dack Rambo (Died at 52 years old), best known for playing Jeff Sonnett on the television series The Guns of Will Sonnett, and Jack Ewing in the television series Dallas.
  • Larry Riley, (Died at 39 years old), best known for playing Frank Williams in the television series Knots Landing, a Dallas spin-off.
  • Rock Hudson (Died at 59 years old), an American legend, starring on over 40 films, as well as popular television series as a special guest star such as I Love Lucy, and Dynasty.
  • David Oliver (Died at 30 years old), best known for playing in the daytime soap opera Another World, and A Year in the Life with Sarah Jessica Parker.
  • Anthony Perkins (Died at 60 years old), an American legend, starring in over 30 films, but best remembered for playing Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho.
  • Robert Reed (Died at 59 years old), best known for playing Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.
  • Liberace (Died at 67 years old), an internationally famous American entertainer and pianist. During the 1950's and 1970's, he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world.
  • Freddie Mercury (Died at 45 years old), an internationally famous entertainer, and the first major rock star to die from AIDS. Mercury was the lead singer of the rock band Queen.
  • Richard A. Heyman (Died at 59 years old), Mayor of Key West, Florida and one of the first openly gay elected officials.
  • Larry McKeon (Died at 63 years old), Representative in the Illinois House of Representatives. McKeon the first openly gay member lawmaker elected in the State of Illinois. 
Following are the ending credits of the HBO film "And The Band Played On," based on the best-selling 1987 non-fiction book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts.

-> Posted by a volunteer Community Blogger of Kentucky Equality Federation. This is the official blog of Kentucky Equality Federation. Posts contained in this blog may not be the official position of Kentucky Equality Federation, its volunteer officers, directors, management, supported organizations, allies or coalitions, but rather the personal opinions or views of the volunteer Community Bloggers. The opinions or views expressed in the blog are protected by Section 1 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky as non-slanderous free speech; blogs are personal views or opinions and not journalistic news sites.

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