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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
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the time of marriage or pregnancy, have been criticized for invading
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
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
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 enough is known about the basic
biology of HIV, and they recommend shifting the emphasis of AIDS
research to basic research that could ultimately result in more
Most people agree that AIDS is a very important issue and cannot be
ignored. Personally, I believe that the country and society is to blame
for the spread of AIDS. We let it get out of control. The modes of
transmission have been known for a considerable amount of time, yet the
disease still continues to spread. There are few people who can
honostly claim not to know the ways in which AIDS is transmitted.
Similarly, there are very few people who don't know the ways to prevent
the spread of AIDS. These methods are very simple and easy to follow.
Yet, thousands will be infected this year alone.
Another aspect of AIDS that up until very recently was a serious
problem is the treatment, or mistreatment, of those who are HIV
positive, but do not have AIDS. One of the most famous stories is the
treatment of Ryan White. He was not allowed to attend a public school
because he had AIDS. His story was told and people began to realize
that those with HIV can lead "normal" lives and must be treated equally.
Fortunately, conditions have improved.
It is hard to know what society might be like had it not been for
AIDS. It might be fair to assume that society in general would be much
more sexually promiscuous had AIDS not curbed this trend. Another
effect that isn't usually noticed at first glance is the creation of
jobs. AIDS has made it necessary for thousands of workers in the
pharmaceuticals industry as well as research. Also, people have been
hired to counsel AIDS patients and write literature about the causes and
the methods of prevention. Even the arts have changed since AIDS came
about. Songs have been written. Movies have been made, such as 'The
Band Played On'.
In conclusion, the effects of AIDS on society are very far-reaching.
They stretch from social behavior changes to a change in art and music.
AIDS has caused all Americans to think about their lives and how fragile
life is. They must be careful and use caution. Hopefully, all of
society will one day know the causes of AIDS and the means of
prevention. They will take knowledge and apply it. With a cure and an
end to the spread of this disease, society will survive and prosper.
Martelli, Leonard J. and others. When Someone You Know Has AIDS.
Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On. St. Martin's, 1987. “Politics,
People and the AIDS Epidemic”.
Weitz, Rose. Life with AIDS. Rutgers, 1991.