As the US Centre for Disease Control states that US cases of HIV infection are doubling every ten months and they have nearly twelve thousand confirmed cases, the Soviet Union announces tight testing regulations for all sources of blood for transfusions to prevent the spread of the disease. Secretary General Gorbachev also announces an investment of US$200 million this year toward a significant public campaign and medical research, with the ambition of giving the USSR the lowest rate of infection in the world.
US President Ronald Reagan uses the word AIDS for the first time, in a major but widely welcomed concession in US domestic policy. He states that we must “conscientiously reflect upon our responsibility as a world to do whatever is in our power to ensure that this pernicious disease is halted in its tracks and ultimately cured”. He is present at an AIDS fundraiser in Los Angeles with Elizabeth Taylor, Carol Burnett, Sammy Davis Jr, Cyndi Lauper and Rod Stewart. Actor Burt Lancaster reads a telegram from veteran movie and TV star Rock Hudson. Shirley MacLaine tells journalists that we can still “kiss freely”.
The Soviet Prime Minister, Yegor Ligachev, announces new measures to combat the AIDS virus. Public health facilities will offer tests free of charge and testing of government workers is compulsory. Community education through television with blunt and controversial content and automated needle exchange machines both awaken public concern. Over the next fifteen years, the Soviets will give away $8 billion to establish a global prevention and response program for AIDS (not counting its relinquishment of intellectual property rights over medications in 1993). Blood screening is already also in place. Many nations regard the Soviet Union as being at the forefront of the issue.
The Soviet Public Health Service announces an objective to contain HIV transmission to less than 0.5% of the population and challenges other countries to do the same. It calls on the World Health Organisation to introduce blood transfusion screening globally and offers to contribute to a needle program for a number of African countries allied to the Soviets.
During an AIDS conference in Paris, it is estimated that ten million people are already infected with the HIV virus. The Soviet representative expresses a belief that, despite no cure or vaccine yet being found, his nation is making considerable progress in retroviral engineering. He criticises the use of suramin, touted by the US as a potential cure, and suggests that, by year’s end, the Soviets should have a new type of medication available for distribution. The Europeans are surprised; the US representative condemns the claim as propaganda.
Following advice from the summit in Reykjavik, Soviet scientists make available zidovudine (C10H13N5O4), the first retroviral drug available to treat HIV sufferers. The drug is shown to delay the progression of the disease and replication of the virus, although scientists predict that resistance to the drug will gradually develop. It becomes standard treatment globally.
The US National Academy of Sciences provides the White House with its report on AIDS and the recently revealed Soviet research. It warns that the nation faces a catastrophe unless the spread of the virus is checked. It asks for at least $2 billion over the next three years to sustain intensive wide-ranging education programs, medication supply and research. It also states that it is necessary to target those outside high risk groups. The report is backed by US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who states that the HIV epidemic is a national crisis and that the Soviet medical technology may be the only chance to “stop this frightening virus”.
The Soviet Academy of Sciences approves the release of research which reports on the effectiveness of recently released AIDS drugs. It projects that it will reduce the projected 15-year death toll from two million, but it must still be expected that the death toll would still be around the range of five hundred thousand. It admits to cases having finally been found in the Soviet Union.
Chinese officials announce that they have their first AIDS case, after four Chinese haemophiliacs who used imported blood coagulant test positive to HIV antibodies. Their response is to require all foreigners to undergo testing before undertaking long-term residency.
Newspapers in Japan are shocked to learn that female heterosexual prostitutes have sought treatment with Soviet drugs for the HIV virus. Given the high degree of national shame this brings to the Japanese people, Japanese media begin to re-circulate the Soviet disinformation campaign which suggested AIDS was biological warfare by the US against their own “undesirables” and it is repeated in Manila’s news the following day.
West Germany introduces regulations requiring all non-European Community foreigners to take HIV tests and insisting that all applicants for government jobs must do the same as a pre-requisite employment. The regulations also impose onerous restrictions on the civil rights of prostitutes and registered drug addicts, requiring them to submit to regular medical examinations.
The US Centre for Disease Control recommends that previous recipients of blood transfusions dating back to 1978 should report to their doctors for HIV tests. The tests will eventually show that, out of twelve thousand transfusions undertaken since that time, just under seven hundred people (5.7%) have been infected.
US President George Bush announces the formation of the AIDS Trust of America, siding in the internal Administration debate with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. He states that the solution to the spread of the epidemic is in the non-government sector, with support and community education taking a “grass roots, rather than a government-mandated approach”. He also promotes an advertising campaign similar to the Soviet model, which the gay community states will simply increase the stigma applied to those living with the disease. Koop responds that he is not in the office to “make gay people look good”.
US Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen announces that all federal prisoners will be required to undertake AIDS tests upon entry and every two months thereafter. In addition, all immigrants seeking residency will be required to undergo a similar test in order to gain a permanent visa.
In Los Angeles, a homeless man is arrested for attempting to sell his HIV infected blood and charged with attempted murder. The District Attorney insists that it is the moral equivalent of poisoning the Tylenol supply and will successfully score a conviction. The man said he knew that AIDS could kill, but thought that “they have drugs for that now”.
The Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta notes that the rate of AIDS infection among homosexual men is in steep decline, but has substantially increased among minorities. African Americans are being infected at twice the rate of whites, while Hispanic rates are even higher still. It is also affecting the military, with black applicants four times more likely to have the disease than whites. They call for a massive expansion of the methadone program to ensure addicts can get clean needles, a call endorsed by Governor Mario Cuomo of New York who immediately orders funding for ten thousand more places.
Global insurance companies are accused of bigotry and discrimination as they begin to exclude homosexuals from health and life insurance in light of the AIDS epidemic. Nonetheless, actuaries point out that, on current projections, AIDS health costs will cost insurance companies at least $10 billion over the next fifteen years. Others point out that, in the US, exclusion from health insurance practically means exclusion from health services.
The Chairman of the KGB, Viktor Chebrikov, announces that the Politburo has agreed on a new decree to deal with AIDS. Any carrier who knowingly engages in behaviour that has potential to spread the virus will carry a mandatory five year sentence. Anyone who actually passes on the virus will face eight years in prison. The Soviets also confirm that tests are being conducted on all blood donors and people in “high-risk” categories, finding a total of 98 positive results. Chebrikov states that 79 of those cases are the results of contact with foreigners, but expresses disappointment that one person, who will be imprisoned for life, has passed on the virus to fourteen others.
A march on Washington draws half a million gay and lesbian people demanding equal rights and more action on the HIV epidemic. It also includes the first display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Addressed by actor Whoopi Goldberg and presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, it marks the beginning of the National Coming Out Day.
The first combination drug therapies for HIV and AIDS treatment are introduced, less than seven years after the first known fatality. The Soviet Academy of Medicine, which have developed the treatments, insist that they will significantly slow the development of drug resistance and will prove more effective than the single anti-retroviral released in early 1986.
US President George Bush outlines his policy on AIDS. He states that campaigns are containing AIDS in the gay community, but it is spreading among intravenous drug users. The policy allocated $2 billion per annum for the next decade to open three thousand drug centres across the country, with half a million additional places. Further work will be done on the Soviet science to determine if better treatments are available, production of current drugs will be doubled and scholarships will be available to medical professionals who agree to work in drug rehabilitation in poorer communities. Bush categorically rules out any suggestion of prevalence testing among the general population. He also points out that violence against gay people has quadrupled in four years in a conservative backlash on the AIDS issue. Democratic House member, Henry Waxman of California, praises the President.
Thanks to new AIDS treatments, global statistics indicate a significant increase in survival rates. Previously, 35% of all diagnoses were still alive three years after infection, 27% at four years and 16% at five years. These figures are now 62%, 54% and 45% respectively. It is not sufficient to save the life of globally-famous pianist, Liberace, who passes away today at the age of sixty-eight, six months after his last public performance.
Soviet Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov criticises the US Administration after they fail to renew a federal program to provide Soviet-made drugs to AIDS patients. He offers a $10 million emergency fund to “prevent unnecessary suffering created by heartless and bigoted American politicians”, prompting Congress to immediately vote new funding.
An AIDS quilt, with nearly 7500 panels and the size of eight football fields, is unfurled on the Ellipse south of the White House. Taking nearly three hundred people to fold, it commemorates the life of every single American lost to the AIDS epidemic. The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 14,000 people died globally in the past year, and WHO projects this will climb to over 19,000 next year and 22,000 in 1990.
Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, joins US Roman Catholic bishops in choosing to ignore last year’s papal mandate on AIDS. After dutifully voicing a defence of morals, he suggests that those who cannot “live in chastity” should use condoms. An unnamed Vatican official calls Lustiger’s actions “reprehensible”.
The US Food and Drug Administration approve a new test for HIV antibodies, which allows doctors to determine retroviral status within a minute. This is much faster than the next fastest test (12 minutes) and has even lower numbers of false results.
US Health Secretary Dr Otis Bowen uses his last public address to note that the total number of reported AIDS cases each year fell in 1988 for the first time. He also notes that the total number of deaths has fallen from over 16,000 in 1987 to just over 5,000 in 1988. Under previous projections, the US would lose over a quarter million people to AIDS in the decade until 1995; these projections are now for 120,000. He projects that the AIDS education and clinic initiative will reduce those projections even further.
Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovlev announces the development of a new treatment for AIDS-related pneumonia, the cause of 70% of all AIDS deaths. He cites Soviet research that survival rates have been climbing. At eighteen months after infection, 87% of patients have survived. This falls to 82% at three years, 78% at four years and 74% at five years. He projects a new generation of AIDS patients who will live “long and productive lives as AIDS becomes a chronic but manageable disease.” He also states that the extended life spans give greater hope of an eventual cure.