It was 30 years ago today…

Then-US Secretary of Health, Margaret Heckler, announces the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS. Initially (mis)classified as a third member of the HTLV leukemia virus family (there were two others, both discovered by Robert Gallo), the virus later known as HIV is seen and described on TV for the first time. Also seen are clips from a few prominent AIDS deaths: Actor Rock Hudson, who kept his illness a secret until he had to seek treatment overseas; and Ryan White, an Indiana schoolboy born with hemophilia, who caught HIV from a tainted batch of Factor VIII, a coagulant made from donor blood. The clip closes with a view of the Names Project quilt, a massive tribute to the thousands who died of AIDS during the 1980s, when politicians all fiddled while victims — mostly gay men, but with a fast growing contingent of women and children — burned.

One can’t help wondering what would have happened if AIDS had been transmitted like flu — not sexually, not by blood contact, but simply through casual transmission, via the airborne route. I have no doubt that we’d be seeing a working vaccine for it now, instead of the continued foot-dragging that has characterized political response to the disease from the moment it first appeared on the public-health radar.

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