The following was submitted as a letter to the editor. Go here to join the discussion.
Re: “HIV remains a gay disease,” op-ed by Daniel Frederick O’Neill (Sept. 24)
O’Neill gets it right — succinctly charting the impact of HIV/AIDS from early fear and devastation to current complacency.
Working with the CDC in the late ’80s and early ’90s to develop and market the ground-breaking “America Responds to AIDS” national campaign, we were able to raise awareness, promote understanding, encourage compassion and influence risk reduction behaviors that changed the way most Americans view HIV/AIDS. Much of this success was due to the gay community’s swift and effective mobilization. However, since that 10-year campaign ended, the landscape has changed as O’Neill so correctly observes.
Because of the success of antiretroviral (ARV) therapies, prevention has taken a back seat to treatment — to the point where many now perceive HIV as a chronic, manageable disease. Yes, thankfully, ARVs work and PEP and PrEP (post and pre-exposure prophylaxis) as well as microbicide gels show increasing promise. However, they are no substitute for prevention.
Looking back, the first turning point against HIV/AIDS was not testing or new drugs, but the promotion of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention that changed attitudes and behaviors. Even today, as HIV continues to disproportionately impact MSMs, especially among racial and ethnic populations, the gay community must continue to integrate prevention into its comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs. — Yolan Laporte, former executive vice president, Ogilvy Public Relations, Fairfax, Va.