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How Ebola Reminds Us of AIDS

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October 22 2014

By Nga Do

When Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in Dallas, Texas on September 20th, he was realizing a long-held dream – to be reunited with his fiancée and son, whom he had not seen in 16 years. Duncan lived with them for 8 days, before, on September 28th, being rushed to the hospital, diagnosed with Ebola, and held in quarantine. On October 8th, Duncan passed away alone in his hospital room. He was the first person to die of Ebola in this country.

On September 20th, Thomas Eric Duncan was just one of 1.73 million passengers flying into the United States. Today, he is famous. He is the face of the Ebola “outbreak” in the United States.

With Duncan’s diagnosis and death, Ebola officially came to the United States. With the arrival of this highly contagious, deadly disease has come a good dose of concern, fear, and panic. It is this panic which reminds us of the early days of AIDS.

Ebola panic

In the late 1980s, fear of HIV infection, as well as HIV’s association with stigmatized behaviors such as homosexuality, drug addiction, prostitution, and promiscuity, created a hostile environment for people with HIV and AIDS. The “hysteria” can be summed up in this example, when parents at an elementary school in Queens, New York chose to keep their children home after learning that one child, at one elementary school in one of the five boroughs, was HIV positive. From a 1985 Time article, titled, The New Untouchables:

“There are 946,000 children attending New York City schools, and only one of them — an unidentified second-grader enrolled at an undisclosed school — is known to suffer from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, the dread disease known as AIDS. But the parents of children at P.S. 63 in Queens, one of the city’s 622 elementary schools, were not taking any chances last week. As the school opened its doors for the fall term, 944 of its 1,100 students stayed home.”

Today, we do not hear about students in the United States staying home from school for fear of contracting HIV. Through the work of dedicated and committed research scientists, we have made immense progress in our ability to treat HIV/AIDS. For those with access to care, HIV is no longer a death sentence, but a chronic disease. With this scientific progress, “AIDS hysteria” has largely abated. But HIV/AIDS is still very much a threat – nationally and globally.

In the United States alone, 25,000 people are newly infected with HIV/AIDS each year, while an estimated 250,000 people were living with HIV in 2013. Worldwide, there were 2.1 million new cases, and 1.5 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses. Overall, since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 78 million people have contracted HIV, and nearly 39 million have died of AIDS-related causes.

Though Ebola is much more contagious than AIDS and kills its victims much more quickly, globally and in Africa, AIDS is taking many more lives. We need to feel the urgency we feel about Ebola, about HIV/AIDS. We need to remember and acknowledge the damage HIV/AIDS still wreaks, and do all that we can to end the pandemic.

Please, join us. Help us realize a world without AIDS.

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