WORLD AIDS DAYS – 2017 – We Must Never Forget! By Paul E. Brogan

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December 1st is World AIDS Day and since 1988, this day has been set aside to serve as a reminder of what this devastating disease has done since it first manifested itself in the early 1980.s It’s also a day to remember those we have lost, those who continue to fight the good fight as well as creating awareness about prevention and the importance of getting tested.world_logo3

 

Sadly it seems that the Media have covered not only World AIDS Day but the pandemic that is HIV/AIDS to a lesser and lesser degree with the passing of each year. In a world where news seems to happen so quickly, this more than 36 year nightmare no longer grabs the headlines or is discussed to the degree that it should be. It’s a subject that still leaves many uneasy and misconceptions persists to this day.

In 2016, there were an estimated 36.7 million people living with HIV and more than 1 million deaths. In the United States there are over 1.2 million people diagnosed with HIV and it is believed that there are many more who do not know they are infected as they have not been tested. Between the time it was discovered in the early 1980’s and 2014, nearly 40 million people, worldwide, have died.

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Headlines were generated in the 1980’s when actor Rock Hudson and entertainer Liberace succumbed to AIDS. While AIDS seemed to hit the entertainment industry especially hard, it also cut a swath across the sports world and virtually left no segment of the population untouched. The stigma attached to AIDS, however, meant that huge numbers of individuals had to keep their diagnosis a secret or pass off their weight loss or other symptoms as something else. For a while some subscribed to the notion that AIDS was God’s punishment on gay people, and that AIDS was a “gay cancer”.

While we have come a long way in the past three and a half decades, there is no time to sit back and rest. There are a disturbing number of new infections, especially among younger individuals who seem to feel that having sex without protection or sharing a needle, will not potentially result in their becoming infected with the HIV virus. I have heard people say, “AIDS? That was decades ago. That thing isn’t around anymore.”

There is also the notion that it is easily treatable and no more an inconvenience to an individual than the need for a diabetic to take insulin.

While there are certainly people, in the United States at least, who are living longer lives and functioning far better than someone in the same situation would have lived mere years ago, the side-effects of medications can cause horrific problems and there is always the risk of an infection that can quickly end a life.

I’ve been passionate about doing whatever I can in this fight, since the mid-1980’s when I suddenly became aware that I was losing friends in New Hampshire, at a rate of several each month in some instances. Even if you ran into a friend who boasted that their recent weight loss was deliberate and to “get in shape for my Speedo”, you saw others sadly shaken their heads in disbelief that it might only be a question of weeks.

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After an especially virulent attack of Shingles, and finding myself losing weight rapidly, finally reaching 130 pounds on my five foot ten frame, I was misdiagnosed as HIV-Positive. For some months, I waked around in a daze, no longer feeling connected to my community or to life. Fortunately, extensive testing later showed me to be HIV-Negative, a status I maintain to this day. However, I truly believe it was a wake-up call to do something for others who were not as fortunate in having their status overturned as mine was.

In New Hampshire, in particular, AIDS was something to be whispered about. The Manchester Union Leader, the state’s largest paper in circulation, referred to gay people as “Sodomites” and had no compassion or sympathy for those who were infected.

Fortunately a number of grass roots organizations sprung up throughout New Hampshire. These AIDS Service Organizations were often staffed by teams of volunteers who worked tirelessly to help any and all who needed help. Rental assistance, transportation, food, help in obtaining benefits that were often the difference between living and dying, and often simply providing an ear to listen and an arm to embrace. CBS-TV-City

When I worked at CBS Television City in the early 90’s, I stopped each morning on my way down Fairfax at St. Ambrose Church to light a Votive Candle and leave a small donation, each candle being in memory of someone I’d lost or someone I knew in Los Angeles who was fighting for their life. While I knew the Catholic Church was opposed to gays and to the use of condoms – a surefire way to prevent the spread of HIV – I was at the Church to deal directly with the “Big Man” – God. It started my day with a focus on what was important. It was a reality check.

Soon I was providing rides to various individuals, bringing them food and most often, sitting and allowing them to vent, talk softly, or cry, knowing I was not going anywhere.

After returning to New Hampshire, I became actively involved with several AIDS Service Organizations – sometimes being paid, frequently doing it for gratis because it was the right thing to do.

On a radio show I produced and starred on, I often talked about HIV/AIDS and received a Media Award for an especially meaningful episode that woke a great many people up as to the importance of not allowing HIV/AIDS to become a back page story in the paper.

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I called on celebrity friends who answered the call resoundingly, venturing to New Hampshire to help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and create an awareness that had been missing. Even the Manchester Union Leader discussed the cause while writing about appearances by Patti Page and Jack Jones, Eileen Fulton and Jim Bailey, among others.

When Greg Louganis came to NH in the summer of 2003 to talk about living with AIDS, the State’s Republican Governor’s Office would not send a representative to the event or issue a Proclamation, noting, “Republicans don’t get AIDS”.

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A few years later, Democratic Governor John Lynch happily joined Carol Channing on stage for an AIDS benefit.

 I am deeply proud that I answered the call to step-up and give of my time including my participation in a clinical trial that was designed to find a vaccine. While it did not yield the desired result and I still have lingering side-effects from the infusion, I would do it again if I had the opportunity. In life, we can each make a difference, no matter what size, in helping someone else.

On this World AIDS Day, take a moment to remember someone you might have known who is no longer with us or who is still here. Think about the millions of lives lost as well as the millions who stepped up to be heard or to lead the infected to safe places where they could find help or solace.  Remember the men, women, children, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters, cousins, lovers, friends and all of those whose dreams were cut short but who occupied a place on this planet and must not be forgotten.VACCINE

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Written By: Paul Brogan, Contributing Editor, Author
Photographs are Courtesy: File
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