The National AIDS Memorial on Tuesday honored Drs. Anthony Fauci and David Ho during its virtual World AIDS Day event.
Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, during a panel that ABC News Chief Health and Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton moderated talked about treating people with HIV/AIDS during the first years of the epidemic.
“You related to these people,” said Fauci. “They were young men who previously had been very healthy and they were in a mysterious disease.”
“In 1981, 2 and 3 we knew it was an infection. It had to be an infection,” he added. “We knew that it was new, but it was a very unique experience dealing with something that was killing a lot of people and you didn’t know what it was. That is a very unique experience in medicine.”
Ho, director of Columbia University’s Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, echoed Fauci.
“This was a mysterious illness, that was seemingly transmissible and it was killing young gay men one after another,” said Ho.
Ho, like Fauci, also said many gay men with HIV/AIDS died alone because their families had shunned them.
“They were often dying alone, shunned by family and friends because of this transmissible illness and we knew it was obviously spreading and yet there was no effective intervention that was meaningful in any way,” said Ho.
Ho and Fauci received the National AIDS Memorial’s National Recognition Leadership Award. John Cunningham, executive director of the San Francisco-based organization, during the event announced Ho and Fauci’s names have been added to the memorial’s “Circle of Friends” in the city’s Golden Gate Park.
“For nearly four decades, these two individuals have stood at the forefront,” said Cunningham.
This year’s World AIDS Day took place nearly four decades after the first cases of what became known as AIDS were reported. It also coincides with the coronavirus pandemic.
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center notes there are 13,696,060 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. The pandemic has also killed more than 270,000 Americans.
Robert Garcia, the openly gay mayor of Long Beach, Calif., is among those who participated in the virtual World AIDS Day event.
Garcia during a panel with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that ABC News’ “GMA3” Co-Anchor T.J. Holmes moderated noted his mother and stepfather both died from the coronavirus over the summer. Garcia also discussed both pandemics’ impact on the LGBTQ community.
“As we think about and remember everyone that has left us because of HIV and AIDS, for me as a gay man, it means an enormous amount knowing the amount of sacrifice that has happened within our own LGBTQ+ community throughout this terrible virus and the damage it’s done to our community, to friends of mine, to people and mentors that I look up to and respect,” said Garcia. “And it reminds us that we have to be strong because things can get better and that’s the case with this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ho also drew parallels between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic.
“HIV/AIDS was relatively speaking slow and insidious and yet COVID-19 hit us like a tsunami,” he said.
Ho also noted “it looks like the vaccines and therapies are emerging extremely rapidly in an unprecedented fashion” for the coronavirus, whereas an HIV vaccine remains elusive. Ho and Fauci also discussed the way that behavioral changes can curb the spread of HIV and the coronavirus.
“Human behavior is quite challenging to predict and certainly to modify,” said Ho. “We have learned that in HIV for example, wearing a condom could go a long way in preventing sexual prevention of the virus. And in COVID-19 wearing a mask would similarly cut down transmission, but it’s very hard for people to apply some of these measures.”
Fauci acknowledged “one of the things that has been dominant and very, very difficult to deal with with COVID-19 is the divisiveness in our society in which messaging and conduct related to one’s own personal responsibility as well as your societal responsibility has been really completely distorted by the divisiveness as where public health measures have taken on an almost a statement as opposed whether it’s going to have an impact on the broad health of everyone.” He also pointed to continued resistance to wearing masks and other prevention measures in parts of the country where coronavirus rates continue to skyrocket.
“You still have people who refuse to wear a mask, who refuse to have physical distancing because they think all for this is a hoax or its fake news,” said Fauci.
“We didn’t have that with HIV,” he added. “There were another set of behavioral issues that got in the way, but this is an extra added something that I have never experienced with and I am really stunned by it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David also participated in the event that actress Judith Light hosted.
Black Lives Matter Co-founder Alicia Garza, Marked by COVID Co-Founder Kristin Urquiza and Cleve Jones participated in a panel that David moderated. Rev. Naomi Washington-Leaphart, director of Philadelphia’s Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs, delivered the invocation.
“This year has been an unprecedented year for global health, unprecedented even by pandemic standards,” said Light. “We face a grim reality. Our nation continues to struggle in the fight against COVID-19 … 2020 also marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States.”
“On this World AIDS Day, our hearts and minds open we are spotlighting the interconnectedness between two pandemics that while having their differences, have haunting similarities,” she added.