When an epidemic turns political


It amazes me how similar the protections against Covid-19 are to those of HIV/AIDS. If you were around in the early days of AIDS you might recall the massive educational campaigns the various organizations like Philadelphia FIGHT and Action AIDS (now Action Wellness) rolled out. Those same issues that we learned back are issues that the general public needs to learn now, and they can learn it from our HIV/AIDS organizations who already have experience combatting one pandemic. Hint to Biden/Harris administration: request help from HIV/AIDS organizations and administrations regarding Covid-19.

Those HIV/AIDS organizations wrote the book on contact tracing. The methods we as a community incorporated were as sensitive as it goes.  After all, we were dealing with people who were in the closet, discreet, or simply in hiding and denial.  Our organizations learned new techniques and even new labels to deal with the culture of the time.

Teaching people to always use a condom is similar to teaching people to use a mask. Clear messaging is how it’s done. With HIV/AIDS, the message was “When you have sex with someone, you’re having sex with all the people they had sex with.”  Turn that to a mask education campaign.  “When you don’t wear a mask, you’re not just breathing the air of the person you’re with, but with all the people who that person has been with.”

Getting people to be tested for HIV/AIDS with confidence was an obstacle with the many issues of the community that needed to be tested, including how and where testing should be done.  We overcame those issues and created a successful campaign.

Today, people often state that to wear a mask is a political statement. But during HIV/AIDS, the testing, treating, and educating were all political statements, and we did it with little help from the federal government.

As Dr. Fauci makes clear, those from the HIV/AIDS organizations taught the CDC and FDA new methods that are still in use today. It’s time to re-activate that relationship, not just for HIV/AIDS, but for the health of the nation. And it’s time to stop thinking of simple health precautions as political. Hopefully, once Trump leaves office, we can start to dismantle that irresponsible, callous, and dangerous message.