Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 1, 2010: World AIDS Day--My AIDS Journey: Figuring Out the Age of AIDS

It's December 1st, 2010. It's one of the very few (if not the only) days in the year that the word AIDS is said out loud in the mainstream media. That's unfortunate, I think. But let's be positive. Let's remember those we've lost to the pandemic and help those living with the virus today, World AIDS Day (WAD), and every other day.

I've covered HIV/AIDS in writing and photography for almost a decade now. It's been and continues to be an inspiring journey. A journey I embarked on many times, with many people. One of the most memorable is award-winning visual artist Kurt Weston, with whom I've kept in touch ever since that first interview. He's a wonderful friend and mentor. Here's an excerpt from my book, JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, a biography that follows his living with AIDS and related visual loss. The excerpt is from a chapter called "Cold Warning," after one of Kurt Weston's images.

Hope you enjoy the read, and hope you remember World AIDS Day.

As always, thanks for visiting,
Alina
www.alina-arts.com

"Angel in Central Park," by Alina Oswald.All Rights Reserved.


“I’m not clocked down on AIDS,” Kurt Weston says talking about the age of AIDS. The pandemic made headlines in the eighties, but it may be much older. Yet, does it make any difference in how people perceive the way it has touched millions of lives?
It may be hard sometimes to realize that it all started with one genetic transformation from a monkey virus to a human one, from one chimpanzee to one human, possibly a monkey hunter in the jungles of Central Africa sometime in the late 1930s. That one mutation led to the first HIV infection, which medical professionals officially recorded in 1959.
The infected hunter, the world’s AIDS patient zero, left his village for the large cities of Africa and the opportunities they provided. The crowds and busy city nightlife attracted both the hunter and his virus, in different ways. Soon, HIV started to spread from person to person, taking over communities, cities, countries and continents, and becoming what’s known today as the global AIDS pandemic. Presently, some forty million people are infected with HIV and more than twenty million have already died of AIDS, worldwide.
The first U.S. casualties surfaced in June 1981, in Los Angeles, where doctors found a strange type of pneumonia--called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, or PCP--in five young gay men. PCP is caused by a microorganism that occurs naturally in the lungs of people and animals. In 1981, although the medical professionals didn’t know the cause of the disease, they knew it was associated with a weakened immune system. And the cause for this impaired immunity was still a mystery. The patients died within days.  
That same summer, an article published in the New York Times announced the appearance of a rapidly fatal form of a rare cancer that doctors had found in forty-one homosexual men. A CBS newscaster also reported that a strange cancer seemed to be spreading in the gay community and that nobody knew where it came from or how it was spread. 
It was only a blip in the news, but Kurt Weston heard it as he was watching TV in his condo in Chicago. The photographer wondered if he could actually get the strange “gay cancer” and he called his friend, David, who was living in the same neighborhood. His friend had no idea about the mysterious disease threatening their community, but he agreed with Kurt that the gay cancer news was indeed scary news.
It wasn’t until a few years later that the “gay cancer” made headlines again, under a new name. In 1985 the Center of Disease Control announced that it wasn’t a (gay) cancer causing all the disease and suffering and death, but rather a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. The CDC called the multitude of strange diseases the virus caused Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
In the late eighties, after David’s lover died of AIDS-related causes, Kurt reminded his friend of the CBS report from back in 1981:
    “David, do you think you have AIDS?” Kurt asked.
    “I think we all have AIDS,” David answered. 
He died the following year. He was Kurt’s first close friend to die of AIDS.

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