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A Matter of Life and Death 

The age, and new age, of AIDS

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Like most media, the Weekly was slow to recognize the emerging AIDS crisis. But once it did, the paper’s writers covered the plague from all angles, chronicling victims and crusaders and looking for causes and cures — occasionally in the wrong places.

 

From "Can Food Help AIDS?" by Rita Xanthoudakis (January 27, 1984)

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Each individual needs certain things to maintain health, says nutritional therapist Steve LaFleur. Each person is predisposed to have either a vegetarian, balanced or meat-eating metabolism. The vegetarian type, known as a "sympathetic dominant," is skinny, has lots of energy, is more aggressive and more intellectual. People who have a meat-eating metabolism are "parasympathetic dominant" and tend to be stocky, Northern European types.

LaFleur has taken these metabolic guidelines to the streets, where his involvement with the AIDS Project has become a political forum for nutritional counseling. "It’s really a political issue if we’re going to alter the direction that health has taken," says LaFleur. "A disease like AIDS did not come from Mars." Most AIDS patients have led an unhealthy lifestyle, which, together with the amount of carcinogens and immunosuppressive agents present in our food, air and water supply, leads to a total breakdown in the body’s resistance. "It’s not a question of whether you shake hands with or are in the same room with an AIDS victim," LaFleur says. "Chemotherapy, which suppresses the body’s immune system, can predispose cancer patients to the same infection that AIDS victims contract. With health-building therapies, the immune system is restimulated, and that’s what fights off the cancer."

From "What’s Love Got To Do With It?: AIDS and the Limits of a Positive Attitude," by Alexandra Wolf (February 14, 1986)

What I’d come to hear about were remissions, a word Louise [Hay, in her support group] uttered as frequently as "love." I raised my hand, asking for a clarification. Had anyone present had a remission verified through a live-virus test? Had anyone documented a drop in their virus count? "I realize it’s crucial that we feel good emotionally and physically," I said, "but are you saying that by elevating our belief systems and behavior to a higher vibration of love and light we can actually affect the physical plane enough to eliminate all virus from our bodies?"

My question provoked a veritable explosion of anger. No one bothered to raise his or her hand. "Don’t you know all the tests are inaccurate?" "The doctors don’t know anything!" "You’re not relying on them, are you?"

They spoke during the meeting about replacing fear and despair with love and faith, and how wonderful that process is. At the same time, they seemed to fear that by looking at their condition directly, by verifying their transformation with blood tests, they will find their achievements are mere phantoms. It is as if they cannot, after all, bring the divine into the material plane. Look upon the face of God and die!

 

 

From "Theories on the Origins of AIDS," by Amy Cross and Jon Rappoport (June 26, 1987)

Some people feel that the AIDS virus is the result — either intentional or inadvertent — of American biochemical research, especially ä intelligence operations. The CIA’s history of murderous biochemical projects is well documented . . . "There is no known animal virus with all the symptoms of AIDS," says Pasadena internist Dr. Robert Strecker. "It must have been genetically engineered from different viruses . . . almost certainly a research laboratory in the United States."

New York physician Steven Caiazza suggests that . . . the AIDS virus may mask the real threat to the immune system: acute and undertreated syphilis, working in conjunction with other viruses.

Serious speculation surrounds the theory that AIDS was spread widely — though not initially generated — by two types of hepatitis treatments popular around the time that AIDS was first detected. "Physicians who took care of gay men were in the habit of routinely administering gamma globulin for prevention of hepatitis . . . it was used much more often in the gay community than for other people," says Dr. Mathilde Krim of the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

 

From "ACT UP and the Politics of AIDS," by Douglas Sadownick (October 6, 1989)

It had taken AIDS to shatter their hopes for gay utopias — to make these college-educated, mostly privileged men and women see that people far more marginal than they were already so used to being treated prejudicially that AIDS-related discrimination didn’t seem at all unusual.

What to do? ACT UP demands massive funding to end the AIDS pandemic; a worldwide funding program that would stop the genocide in Africa; national health care; the release of life-sustaining drugs; a federally funded education program. The list goes on. But ACT UP’s agenda isn’t merely one of ending AIDS, but of societal reform — to create the kind of America where the government, through education and a national health system, would prevent a disease like AIDS from spreading to the "disenfranchised" ever again.

 

From "AIDS, Inc." by Douglas Sadownick (May 6, 1994)

An entirely new AIDS landscape has developed in the ’90s that features a multibillion-dollar AIDS industry (running the gamut from pharmaceuticals and hospitals to magazines and conferences), the transformation of onetime street activists into public and private agency heads, the blurring of distinctions between obvious enemies and obvious friends — and an interminable amount of death and suffering. For many, the politics of confrontation have become passé. In the ’90s, you shun ACT UP–like tactics in order to get yourself onto community boards and governmental panels — but you pursue ACT UP–like priorities once you’re there. Or you try. ä

The action has left the streets. ACT UP’s impact has diminished over the last couple of years. Local membership has shrunk from nearly 400 during the 1992 riots that erupted with Pete Wilson’s veto of a gay-rights bill, to a couple of dozen today.

 

From "Blood Feud," by Stuart Timmons (August 25, 1995)

Christine Maggiore, founder of a local chapter of Health Education AIDS Liaison (HEAL), and her comrades are HIV dissidents, a movement anxious to tell the world that almost everything it knows about AIDS and HIV is wrong. They point out that midway through the second decade of the AIDS epidemic, science still cannot say exactly how — or even if — the human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS. HEAL promotes alternative views, including the idea that HIV is harmless and that most drug therapies prescribed for AIDS are the real killers. These ideas have inspired a grassroots campaign: In New York, HEAL’s weekly meetings reportedly have grown to 300, and in the past year, chapters have formed in Alabama, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Seattle as well as in London, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires.

For anyone worried about infection with a virus that probably will kill them, HEAL and Maggiore offer hope. To the medical mainstream, however, the messages the group implies and sometimes ä militantly promotes — avoid standard AIDS therapies, don’t bother practicing safe sex — make it something far different: dangerous, potentially deadly.

 

From "Prescription Hope: Can the new, mighty antivirals defeat AIDS?" by Douglas Sadownick (June 21, 1996)

Hope is not a word people with AIDS use when it comes to AIDS medicine. "Crushing disappointment" is more like it. From Bitter Melon to AZT to Suramin to Compound Q, persons with AIDS (PWAs) have been betrayed by drugs designed to help them fight HIV that instead make them sicker — or kill them. Aside from Band-Aid drugs designed to help collapsing immune systems stave off fatal infections, PWAs haven’t gotten much good news. HIV has outsmarted science.

Until now. For the first time in the 14-year history of this fatal disease, mighty new antivirals are reducing the virus in some people’s bloodstreams to such low levels that current blood tests can’t even detect the virus in a sample. The Food and Drug Administration has released three of these new antivirals, or protease inhibitors, so named for the way they inhibit a dreaded enzyme crucial to the life cycle of HIV.

Indeed, at a time when scientists have learned not to overstate the case for medical answers to AIDS for fear of creating a new round of tragic false hopes, even cautious researchers and physicians are beginning to use guarded superlatives.

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