I watched part of Frontline's special Age of AIDS tonight. When it is repeated in your area, I urge you to watch.
It's been 25 years since AIDS was first diagnosed.
Much as I have spoken previously of my generations fears during the Cold War, it may be almost inconceivable to some today just how terrifying it was to live during the height of the AIDS frenzy. If a person was diagnosed with AIDS, they died. No other options.
The possibility of certain death combined with the elusiveness of the virus caused an explosive panic. I will never forget the vivid image of a haz mat unit being called to the scene of a car accident because it was discovered one of the victims had the disease.
That people now live with AIDS as a chronic and not necessarily fatal condition gives great hope. However, the Frontline piece brought back many sobering memories.
Of course I remember Reagan's seeming indifference to the crisis. What I did not remember or did not know was that there was an opportunity for Reagan to allay the nation's fears. White House staff had prepared Reagan for potential AIDS related questions prior to a particular news conference. At the conference Reagan was asked what he would do if his child's elementary school allowed a student with AIDS to attend. Given what we know today, Reagan's answer was shocking. He said in so many words that he would understand the trepidation of parent's in this situation. Given that his staff had prepared the President to state that the chances of casual transmission was non-existent, the sharp turn in the response was surprising.
Compare this to the actions of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Yes, Uganda. You know. That shining light of progressive thought in the 20th century. Museveni spoke personally to Ugandan's about AIDS, their fears and most importantly the medical facts. In his own words to not do so would have been criminal.
And the reason Reagan changed his response in that press conference?
A memo advising the President to ignore facts from professionals in the fields of medicine and science.
The memo writer?