Even though I’ve read most of the articles about AIDS that come my way (also Ebola Fever, Spanish Flu, various plagues, but not so much cancer) and even though I’m working with Cinematheque which is for boys at risk who already have HIV, there are aspects I hadn’t thought about until this morning when I began to read through my new esubscription to TheBody.com.
What I find is not so much that I don’t have the basic facts as that I’m naive about how that plays out. But maybe I don’t know all the basic facts either. I don’t feel too badly since even the sophisticated researchers aren’t sure they know what they know. This entity is so small, it’s like studying electrons.
First, this is not a “germ” in the sense of bacteria. It is a virus, which is essentially “code gone wrong.” It’s the bare minimum that can be considered life at all because it is only that little bit of code that has the ability to use other cells to replicate itself. Antibiotics will not eliminate it. BUT the little bit of code that is an AIDS virus has the effect of knocking out the body’s ability to protect itself by eliminating not only viruses but also bacteria, fungus, and all the other little bits of invader that live off bodies. This means that it gives the occupied body the same immune status as the Bubble Boy who was born with no immune system and had to live in a sterile environment.
Two things made this virus turn into a plague. Neither of them was being homosexual. The first was human populations constantly invading places they never were before, like the deep African jungles. So we’re talking ecology here. Like, Rocky Mountain fever stays in the Rocky Mountains until someone infected with it carries it somewhere else.
The other thing is that this virus is carried in body fluids, so anything that mixes body fluids has the potential to transfer the virus. Many of human diseases (like small pox or undulant fever or anthrax) came from domestic animals which had died quietly and alone until humans rounded them up and kept them together where excrement piled up and where they were cut apart, shedding a lot of blood, and eaten. In the deep jungle there are few domestic animals, but the people get their protein by killing “bush meat” which includes monkeys. When they kill them and cut them up, they get monkey blood into their own wounds or maybe they ate them raw. The virus changed somehow so that now it could live in human bodies as well as monkey bodies. There are new diseases always forming. Right now, north of me, “mad cow disease” is being found in cows. People can catch it.
There are several diseases that are transmitted from one human to another if a human eats an infected person. “Kuru” is the big example. So now we have a third force: social practices. But it is not just anal intercourse that is the social practice that spreads AIDS. It is also a society that throws away boys, and pretends it does not, so that the boys become vectors. Plague in the Middle Ages was not defeated by killing fleas: it was necessary to kill the rats that carried the fleas; more than that, it was necessary to eliminate the conditions that made rats thrive. Getting rid of AIDS on the planet today means eliminating social conditions that some people like, profit from, or tolerate because they think it protects people they value more, the way prostitution is supposed to protect “good women” from rogues craving sex. (Craving sex is supposed to be a universal characteristic of all men and a few women.) Now we’re up to four enablers of plague.
All of this is much complicated by the problem of stigma. Stigma is a way of identifying and excluding people it is inconvenient to include, mostly because they will cost us money if we do. So much about disease comes down to money that those who have figured out how to manage our fear of disease are nearly bankrupting our society. Stigma kept scientists from doing serious research until in our country the stigma was confronted and opposed by people like Elizabeth Taylor, who saw her friends dying from AIDS and who was never afraid of much of anything. (I try to be like her. In some ways.) So then we all wore ribbons and the money was coughed up for serious research. Some meds came out of cancer research, anti-retrovirals, that will repress but not eliminate HIV virus. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief and went back home. Too soon. The slightest challenge or lapse and the virus flares up.
These meds can be controlled and the state loves control. So does the “under-state” which makes black market profits supplying what the state won’t. The pharms loved all of this because they are in the catbird seat with the ability to make meds (drugs). They make sure the state doesn’t import meds from countries where they are sold more cheaply. If you’re outside the system, you don’t get meds. Street boys are outside the system. Anyone stigmatized by color, origin, disability or the nature of their desire is outside the system.
Beyond that, street boys think they can do anything. They think they can fly, survive fire, and somewhere, someday, find a father who will teach them how to be men. But they need money. The ways they get it are outside the system and infects them with AIDS. To both keep them from catching AIDS and keep them alive once they have it, they must want to save themselves, because AIDS meds make you nauseous; they must be taken in very technical regimes, carefully timed and never skipped, so you can’t run out; and they just don’t work on everyone because (see beginning) what a virus is is a bit of genetic code and everyone’s genetic code is different. It’s also helpful if you have a safe warm place to sleep, clothes, food, and a way to feel important. That means a way to tell your story so that other people will think you’re a unique and valuable individual.
Stigma means these things are withheld with righteousness, denied with indignation, and portrayed as a just consequence. Those who help are those who are not stopped by stigma. They learn to accept it and use it. One of their most valuable tools is good information. TheBody.com, for instance. I’m a beginner -- they are not.
Mary nailed AIDS dead on.
Which begs the question...
Where's the cure.
The medications have only gotten better and better but they are a holding pattern. The virus can still (and does) hide from the antivirals in places like bone marrow.
Billions went into developing these medicines. They were created by Big Pharma.
Americans pay more for these medications than anyone else in the world because Americans are seen as stooges willing to pay anything.
Exactly zero dollars of those billions went into finding a cure.
Think about it. The answer is in front of you.
If Big Pharma can keep hundreds of millions of people around the world chained to medications that only hold the virus off (eventually the virus wins) like a bunch of addicted antiviral junkies, who need these medication year after year, virtually until the patient dies, the profit margin is sky high big bucks.
There is NO INCENTIVE to find a cure. They would lose all their patients.
The NIH is doing nothing to find a cure.
The Chinese government was the only government on the planet developing a vaccine with live virus.
Then boom. A curtain of secrecy descended on the drug trial.
Anyone who has gone through a drug trial knows what that means. It means dead bodies.
The other word that needs to be used in this discussion is pandemic. This is no epidemic. This is every country in the world.
AIDS services (including medications) in the United States are way down the list. Other countries do lots more. Brazil for one. India makes sure that the medications are cheap and available. America does exactly the opposite.
Ironically, the United States AIDS services mirrors infant mortality rates in a striking analogy. America has a shameful infant mortality problem. It's AIDS services are shameful as well. The two are on the same statistical decline.
Question: if you are too poor to own transportation, and the only AIDS clinic (my family lives in Hendersonville, NC where every physician in town refuses to treat AIDS period so people have to travel to Asheville if they can get there) is 300 miles away, how do you get there let alone how do you pay for the medication.
At Cinematheque, the boys are on an average of ten medications per day. In America, per-child, the cost of that would average $500.00 per day.
Not even the best junkie thief in Harlem can rip that off PER DAY.
Vast fortunes are being made from world-wide suffering. Humanity is a disgrace.
History is going to ask questions. Oh, yes, it definitely will.
History is going to want to know how thirty years has passed and there is no cure anywhere on the horizon -- Big Pharma owns the horizon. It is not simply a moral issue. It is a national security issue as well.
History is going to wonder what you did to help.
Our children's children's children are going to be baffled as to how this happened. They are going to shake their heads in wonderment that it was allowed to happen.
History is going to want to know how it was that no investment in a cure was made.
History is going to conclude ONE WORD and that word is a crime against humanity.