SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – It was on June 5, 1981 that the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States. And in the last 30 years, millions have been infected worldwide with the deadly disease.
While there have been major advances in research and trying to find a cure for AIDS, there are still questions that need to be answered.
Dr. Mervyn Silverman, the past president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and former director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, said one of the most difficult aspects is educating young people across the country.
“Now that we have treatments that you can take one or two pills a day and be relatively healthy and live a normal life, the attitude has changed, especially from young people,” Silverman said. “They say, why do I have to worry about HIV and AIDS? I’ll take a few pills and I’ll be fine. But with all the literacy in this country, we have over 50,000 new infections every year and almost two a day right here in San Francisco.”
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Silverman was at the forefront of AIDS and HIV research and he said that while he knew it was going to be something big, he never imagined it would grow to what it has become.
“Some of the patients, often white, gay males were showing up with this bewildering condition that seemed to show there was a problem with the immune system…. even though we knew it was more, I don’t think any of us believed that we would see the numbers, 60 million people being infected over that 30 years,” he said.
Silverman said when the disease was first discovered, it was an especially somber mood in San Francisco.
“When I arrived here in 1977, I remember driving through the Castro and it was as if there was a celebration that was going on all the time. By 1982-83, it was almost like a funeral. There were people who were not very old who looked way older than they were. They were walking with canes, they were bent over. They may have had capisce sarcoma, the appearance of purple blotches on their skin,” Silverman said. “It was a real sense of depression and that goes along with the fear. People were going to memorial services almost every other night. I can’t believe there was anyone in San Francisco, gay or straight, that didn’t know somebody who either was suffering or who had died from AIDS.”
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As for the fight against AIDS and HIV today, Silverman said that while things are progressing, there is plenty of work that needs to be done worldwide.
“If we treat people and especially treat them early, we can prevent the buildup of the virus. And if the virus is reduced, then it doesn’t get spread through sexual transmission,” he said. “The issues we are facing right now are how are you going to get care and treatment to people worldwide and how are you going to improve the prevention activities so that we can try to bring this epidemic to some end.”
And as for a cure?
“I think a vaccine is coming in the next ten years. As for a cure, I think within the next five to ten years, I truly believe that’s possible,” Silverman said. “I am more hopeful than ever before. We have made incredible strides and I think a cure is doable.”
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