How has AIDS affected our Society?


Today more Americans are infected with STD\'s than at any other time in
history. The most serious of these diseases is AIDS. Since the first cases were
identified in the United States in 1981, AIDS has touched the lives of millions
of American families. This deadly disease is unlike any other in modern history.
Changes in social behavior can be directly linked to AIDS. Its overall effect
on society has been dramatic.
It is unknown whether AIDS and HIV existed and killed in the U.S. and
North America before the early 1970s. However in the early 1980s, "deaths by
opportunistic infections, previously observed mainly in tissue-transplant
recipients receiving immunosuppressive therapy", were recognized in otherwise
healthy homosexual men. In 1983 French oncologist Luc Montagnier and scientists
at the Pasteur Institute in Paris isolated what appeared to be a new human
retrovirus from the lymph node of a man at risk for having AIDS. At the same
time, scientists working in the laboratory of American research, scientist
Robert Gallo at the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of
Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and a group headed by American virologist Jay Levy
at the University of California at San Francisco isolated a retrovirus from
people with AIDS and from individuals having contact with people with AIDS. All
three groups of scientists had isolated what is now known as HIV, the virus that
causes AIDS. In 1995 HIV was estimated to infect almost 20 million people
worldwide, and several million of those people had developed AIDS. The disease
is obviously an important social issue.
AIDS has caused many to rethink their own social behavior. People are
forced to use caution when involving themselves in sexual activity. They must
use contraception to avoid the dangers of infection. Many people consider HIV
infection and AIDS to be completely preventable because the routes of HIV
transmission are so well known. To completely prevent transmission, however,
dramatic changes in sexual behavior and drug dependence would have to occur
throughout the world. Prevention efforts that promote sexual awareness through
open discussion and condom distribution in public schools have been opposed due
to fear that these efforts encourage sexual promiscuity among young adults.
Similarly, needle-exchange programs have been criticized as promoting drug abuse.
Governor Christine Todd Whitman vetoed a bill in New Jersey that tried to create
a needle-exchange program. She was accused of being "compassionless". She
replied that she could not allow drug addicts to continue to break the law. By
distributing needles, she felt that she was, in fact, encouraging them to break
the law.
Prevention programs that identify HIV-infected individuals and notify
their sexual partners, as well as programs that promote HIV testing at the time
of marriage or pregnancy, have been criticized for invading personal privacy.
Efforts aimed at public awareness have been propelled by community-based
organizations, such as Project Inform and Act-Up, that provide current
information to HIV-infected individuals and to individuals at risk for infection.
Public figures and celebrities who are themselves HIV-infected or have died
from AIDS-including American basketball player Magic Johnson, American actor
Rock Hudson, American diver Greg Louganis, American tennis player Arthur Ashe,
and British musician Freddie Mercury-have personalized the disease of AIDS and
have thereby helped society come to terms with the enormity of the epidemic. In
memory of those people who died from AIDS, especially in the early years of the
epidemic, a giant quilt project was initiated in which each panel of the quilt
was dedicated to the memory of an individual AIDS death. This quilt has traveled
on display from community to community to promote AIDS awareness.
The U.S. government has also attempted to assist HIV-infected
individuals through legislation and additional community-funding measures. In
1990 HIV-infected people were included in the Americans with Disabilities Act,
making discrimination against these individuals for jobs, housing, and other
social benefits illegal. Additionally, a community-funding program designed to
assist in the daily lives of people living with AIDS was established. This
congressional act, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act,
was named in memory of a young man who contracted HIV through blood products and
became a public figure for his courage in fighting the disease and community
prejudice. The act is still in place, although continued funding for such social
programs is under debate by current legislators. The lack of effective vaccines
and antiviral drugs has spurred speculation that the funding for AIDS research
is insufficient. Although the actual amount of government funding for AIDS
research is large, most of these funds are used for expensive clinical studies
to evaluate new drugs. Many scientists believe that not