Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS

How will this crisis change our beloved country?

The bad news is obvious: Too many Americans are suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, as are too many of our fellow human travelers around the world.

The good news is a bit harder to find, but it’s there: We will emerge from this crisis in due course. It likely won’t be as soon as Donald Trump keeps saying it will occur, but we’ll get through this.

Now for some  uncertain news: How will this crisis and our national reaction to it change this country we all love beyond measure?

My strong sense is that when we emerge on the other side that we won’t be quite the same as we were prior to the first death was recorded what seems to long ago.

Maybe we should adopt tighter personal hygiene habits. We should wash our hands more frequently than we did prior to the pandemic. Perhaps we should adopt some modified form of “social distancing.”

To be clear, I am a hugger. I tend to embrace good friends I haven’t seen in some time. That might change, particularly if my friends wave me off, suggesting I should keep my distance. I guess I’ll take on a case-by-case basis.

On a government level, we most certainly should reintroduce the pandemic watchdog element to our National Security Council. Donald Trump eliminated that arm of the NSC not long after he took office as president of the United States. We are paying for that inattention now. Each of our state governments perhaps ought to find the will and the wherewithal to establish pandemic-oriented agencies as well.

The change in our national psyche also is likely to linger long after the disease runs its course. I hope with all my strength for a vaccine, much like we developed in the 1950s with polio. Many other diseases have emerged since then, but we haven’t found cures for them; I think of HIV/AIDS in particular.

Our daily lives are likely to see changes. What they turn out to be remains one of the great unknowns, one of the uncertain elements that awaits us.

Until the end of this crisis arrives, I’ll concentrate on hoping for the best news … that it’s over. Then we can start planning for the uncertain future that lies ahead.

Why not let Dr. Fauci take the lead on coronavirus fight?

I don’t feel much safer now that Vice President Mike Pence has been put in charge of the fight against the threatened spread of the coronavirus.

I wish instead that Donald Trump would have handed that duty over to a fellow who is immensely qualified and who has enormous stamina: Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s premier immunologists and the current head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

There he was, spelling out today in detail the problems facing the nation when — not merely if — the disease spreads in the United States. Then the president took the podium and declared that Mike Pence would lead the fight.

It made me go … huh?

Pence is claiming credit for enacting a health care program in Indiana, where he served as governor before joining the Republican ticket in 2016. Trump brought up the Indiana health care plan, calling it a model for other states to follow.

That’s great. But … I keep circling back to the actual and practical expertise standing near the VP on the White House podium in the form of Dr. Fauci.

He got his medical degree from Cornell University. He is a noted international expert on infectious disease.

I had the high honor of attending the HIV/AIDS international conference in Bangkok in 2004 along with other editorial writers and editors. We received an audience with Dr. Fauci, who was there representing the Bush administration and its own HIV/AIDS initiative. Fauci bowled us over!

I wish the vice president well as he leads this effort. My advice to the VP? Keep the phone line to Dr. Fauci open at all times.

Cure for AIDS and childhood cancer on tap?

Donald Trump went way overboard in handing out grand promises during a political rally this week in Cincinnati.

First, he said he intends to find a cure for HIV/AIDS “very soon.” How soon? That remains to be seen and perhaps how the president defines the term “very soon.”

Second, he announced his intention to cure childhood cancer.

There you go. Two deadly diseases are headed for extinction on this president’s watch. Naturally, the crowd cheered. Hey, who can blame them? I mean, it was their guy making the dubious boasts, although the subject of the prediction certainly is worth cheering, no matter how serious one should take the claim being made by the miracle worker in chief.

What will happen, though, if we don’t find a cure for HIV/AIDS or childhood cancer by the time Trump leaves office? I am presuming he means in January 2025, at the end of his second term. Oh, the humanity, if he gets re-elected next year.

I suppose he’ll blame Democrats in Congress for however short he might fall in that grand prediction.

I am going to hope that Trump delivers on the grand effort, although I have about as much confidence in his delivering the goods as I do on his insistence that “Mexico will pay for The Wall.”

Time of My Life, Part 14: The passport gets filled up

They used to urge us to “join the Army and see the world.” I saw part of the world back in the old days, but a career in print journalism allowed me to see a whole lot more of it.

For that I am grateful.

While working as editorial page editor for the Beaumont Enterprise and the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas, I belonged to a group called the National Conference of Editorial Writers. NCEW no longer exists as it did in its heyday, given the dramatically changing media world these days.

However, when it flourished, it enabled its members to embark on factfinding trips abroad. I was privileged to attend three of them.

I’ll share some of those memories.

In 1989, we embarked on a three-week journey to Southeast Asia. It began in San Francisco for a briefing from experts in the region. We flew off to Bangkok, Thailand. We visited with government officials and took in our share of sights to see.

Then we jetted off to Hanoi, Vietnam. The United States and Vietnam had not yet established diplomatic relations, so we had extra pressure to be on our best behavior while touring Hanoi. We later flew to Ho Chi Minh City (which the locals still refer to as “Saigon”). The differences between those two cities was remarkable in the extreme. Hanoi was dark, dingy and a bit foreboding; Saigon was, well, quite the opposite.

After touring Saigon, we boarded a plane for Phnom Penh, Cambodia. That leg of the trip produced some remarkable discovery for us. Vietnam had invaded Cambodia a decade earlier, occupied the country, and then revealed to the world the atrocities that occurred in Cambodia under the vicious rule of the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot. We saw up close killing fields, torture chambers and talked to survivors of one of the 20th century’s most hideous examples of genocide.

We caravanned back to Saigon and spent Thanksgiving 1989 in a hotel dining room eating a meal prepared by our hosts to honor their American visitors and helping us celebrate our uniquely American holiday.

I will have more to say about one additional leg of that trip later. Spoiler alert: It involves a return to the place where I had served in the Army two decades earlier. That, dear reader, was a cathartic event!

A decade later, in 1997, I participated in an NCEW trip to Mexico City. It was a much shorter excursion, but it was eventful indeed.

We talked to officials about bilateral relations between the United States and Mexico. We watched the Folklorico Ballet, one of those colorful entertainment events I’ve ever seen.

We also had an audience at Los Pinos, the presidential mansion, with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. That was an event that, shall we say, taxed my ability to hold it together. I had consumed some water that I should not have consumed. I was getting sick, rapidly, while we awaited the president.

President Zedillo greeted us, welcomed us to a conference room and chatted with us individually. I told him my name and said I was from Amarillo, Texas. He was somehow smitten by the idea I came from Texas. He wanted to chat a little longer about life in Amarillo.

Meanwhile, I my body temperature was spiking as I fought to resist the oncoming sickness that would befall me later that day.

I got through it. Thankfully.

In 2004 I was able to return to Southeast Asia with another NCEW delegation. The mission on that journey was to discuss the HIV/AIDS crisis in Asia.

We attended the International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok, visited with American health officials there, became acquainted with medical professionals from Africa and Asia.

We returned to Cambodia, where I was struck by how far that country had come from my earlier visit in 1989. We talked to more professionals involved with HIV/AIDS prevention and control.

Then we jetted off to Delhi, India, where we learned of how India is grappling with the HIV/AIDS crisis. We took a day trip to Mumbai, where we sat on the floor of a house visiting with prostitutes who had become infected with the virus.

Yes, it was an eye-opener.

There were other overseas journeys I was able to take while working as journalist: to Greece, Cyprus and Taiwan. I wanted to highlight the NCEW ventures because of my association with a professional organization that helped me grow as a journalist.

I mention this because my career produced many “times of my life.” That I was able to see so much of the world while pursuing a craft I enjoyed fully has filled me with memories that will last a lifetime.

Bush Library and Museum: worth your time

I finally made my way to the Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas to see the nation’s latest presidential library and museum, the one carrying the name of George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States.

It’s a beauty. I want to share a couple of takeaways from it with you.

The 9/11 exhibit is stunning and so help me it doesn’t make it any easier to listen to the audio or watch the video of that horrendous day.

I want to call attention to a particular aspect of it. There’s a wall with thousands of names on it, reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which has the names of 58,000-plus fallen servicemen and women inscribed on that long black granite wall.

The George W. Bush Library and Museum has an exhibit with the names of the passengers who died aboard those four jetliners hijacked by the terrorists on 9/11. Two of them flew into the World Trade Center; one into the Pentagon; the fourth one into that field in Shanksville, Pa. It also has the names of the victims who died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

One name jumped out at me: Todd Beamer. It was an amazing moment. I noticed Beamer’s name immediately upon approaching the wall. He, of course, was the passenger aboard United Flight 93 who famously declared “Let’s roll” while leading the passengers in their valiant effort to wrestle control from the hijackers of the jetliner that plunged into the Shanksville pasture.

Just as the names in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial remind us of the loved ones left behind, so do the names inscribed inside the Bush Library and Museum.

It is powerful, indeed.

The second takeaway, related to 9/11, is the realization that watching the videos and listening to the reporting and the statements from the president so many years later don’t make it easier. Indeed, I get more emotional as the years tick away. It gets harder to relive that terrible day.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 defined the George W. Bush presidency. It thrust the still-new president into a wartime posture. It continued through the Barack Obama administration and is doing so now during the Donald Trump administration.

I am glad to have visited this marvelous exhibit. It contains much more, to be sure. It talks about the president’s HIV/AIDS initiative, his effort to reform education, the first lady’s desire to improve literacy among our children. It papers over, not surprisingly, the financial collapse at the end of the Bush presidency.

But . . . those names on the wall. Goodness gracious.

Time of My Life, Part 2: In the presence of greatness

I once belonged to an organization called the National Conference of Editorial Writers. The group occasionally sponsored remarkable overseas trips to members, editorial writers and editors such as yours truly.

In the summer of 2004, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Bangkok, Thailand. It was my second trip to Southeast Asia with NCEW; the first one was in 1989, and I am likely to tell about that journey at another time.

This installment wants to focus on my being in the same room with one of history’s towering giants.

The AIDS conference focused on the disease that ravages so many millions of human beings. Our journey was aimed at studying the impact of the disease on Asia; in Thailand, Cambodia and India.

But there was a side story to cover as well. Tuberculosis is another killer, communicable disease that afflicted this great man: I refer to Nelson Mandela.

The former South African president came to Bangkok to tell attendees that TB needs the world’s attention, too.

Mandela staged a press availability in a room full of attendees, including our NCEW delegation. I stood about 30 feet from the microphone where Mandela would stand and speak.

He contracted TB during his imprisonment on Robben Island, where he was held prisoner for 27 years before his release in 1990. He had the temerity to protest against South Africa’s apartheid policies; the government threw him in the slammer because he demanded human rights for all of his country’s citizens, not just the white minority that ran everything.

By 2004, Mandela’s place in world history had been established. He stood as a giant among giants. To see this man in person was one of the thrills of my life as a working journalist.

I remember seeing him walk into the room and I was struck by something that was said about Robert Kennedy, which was that when RFK walked into a room, everyone else turned to black-and-white, while Bobby stood in magnificent color.

You could say the same thing about Nelson Mandela.

The great man told us about TB, his struggle to overcome it and urged the HIV/AIDS conference attendees to look for cures to TB. He took a couple of questions and then left.

We were instructed before Mandela came into the room to avoid flash photography, as he had developed acute sensitivity to bright lights during all those years he was kept in the dark on Robben Island. And, to no one’s surprise, some nimrods in the crowd took pictures with blinding flashes of light.

I didn’t get to speak to the great man. I don’t even know what in the name of star-struck wonder I would have said to him.

To be totally candid, just being able to see this man in the flesh was enough of a thrill to last my entire lifetime.

RIP, ‘The Enforcer’

What does one say only moments after learning that one of America’s most beloved public figures has left this good Earth?

Barbara Pierce Bush has died at the age of 92. It was no surprise. She was in “failing health,” surrounded by her family. She had ordered an end to preventative health care, focusing instead on “comfort care.”

The wife of the nation’s 41st president made no pretense about the fake pearls she wore around her neck. She said they were intended to cover up her wrinkles. But everything else about her was so very real. She was known to her kids and grandkids as “The Enforcer.” She set the rules and she made them stick.

And the nation fell madly in love with this woman, a proud first lady — but more importantly a proud wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

She promoted literacy. She became an advocate for research on HIV/AIDS.

She also was unafraid to disagree with her husband, President George H.W. Bush, or her son, President George W. Bush.

The nation will grieve. The president will order flags to fly at half-staff at the nation’s federal buildings. We’ll all remember Barbara Bush as the matriarch of one of the nation’s most iconic political families.

She was a great American.

Trump slaps another group squarely in the face

Donald John Trump made a proclamation to commemorate World AIDS Day.

Do you think he would call attention to specific groups of Americans who have been disproportionately affected by this disease? Gay people? Or people of color? Oh, no! He didn’t go there.

The president broke with decades of tradition by failing to mention the LGBT community, or racial minorities, or poor people in declaring his intention rid the world of this terrible disease.

“Today, on World AIDS Day, we honor those who have lost their lives to AIDS, we celebrate the remarkable progress we have made in combatting this disease, and we reaffirm our ongoing commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat,” Trump said.

I learned a hard truth while attending the International Conference on AIDS in 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand. It is that the disease has spread far beyond where it began in the early 1980s, when it was killing primarily gay men. It now affects sex workers and the spouses of men who become affected with HIV/AIDS through unprotected sex with women who are infected with the virus.

The president made no mention of those groups while making his declaration.

As The Hill reported: Scott Schoettes, a project director at the legal advocacy group Lambda Legal criticized the proclamation in a statement to BuzzFeed.

“Not only did the White House statement on World AIDS Day fail to mention the population in which two-thirds of HIV cases in the US occur — gay and bisexual men — it also failed to point out the disproportionate impact in communities of color, for gay and bisexual men of color, particularly young men of color, or for transgender women,” he said.

Here again, I am saddened to say, is another example of the president feeling queasy about talking to — or about — constituency groups that opposed his election and who continue to oppose his policies.

A politician who pledges to be a president for “all Americans” should be able to summon the rhetoric that speaks to everyone’s particular concerns. Once again, the president has failed to speak to the entire country.

Sad.

Bill Gates takes on Alzheimer’s disease

I want to take a break from commenting on people for whom I have zero respect and toss a bouquet at someone who has earned tons of gratitude and appreciation.

Bill Gates is the world’s richest human being. He has announced he is going to kick in $50 million — which in reality is essentially walking-around money for someone worth roughly a hundred times that amount — for Alzheimer’s research.

Hey, I am not going to give the Microsoft founder the short shrift on this gift. It’s valuable and it well could lead to a cure for an incredibly cruel and heartless disease.

Gates is giving the money to the Dementia Discovery Fund, based in London. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Its impact affects not just those it robs cognitive skill, but also the loved ones of those who afflicted by this terrible killer.

Disease hits close to the heart

I know of what I speak.

My own dear mother died at the age of 61 in 1984 of Alzheimer’s-related complications. A neurologist delivered the formal diagnosis in the spring of 1980, which she was just 56. In truth, she had been exhibiting signs of behavior change for years prior to the doctor’s grim news.

Believe me when I say this: Watching someone you love lose his or her very being is as painful an experience as one can endure. That’s what happened to Mom. She forgot how to sign her name; she couldn’t dress herself; she couldn’t bathe herself; eventually, she lost her ability to speak.

It’s not pretty.

Bill Gates wants to contribute tens of millions of dollars to help finance research that can lead to a cure for his monstrous killer. It’s the first such contribution that Gates has made to a non-communicable disease; he has been giving money for years for HIV/AIDS research.

I know my and family and are far from alone in this struggle against Alzheimer’s disease. Others have gone through the misery we have suffered. I am quite certain they, too, are grateful for Gates’ contribution to this noble effort.

This man is a champion. I appreciate beyond measure his huge gift.

Yes, they should ‘fear’ CTE

Terrell Davis used to be a great football player.

The newly inducted Hall of Fame running back for the Denver Broncos now says he lives in fear — along with other former football players — of a disease he might get later on in life. It’s called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Davis has reason to be very afraid.

The young man took a battering while carrying a football for the Broncos. He took many hits to the head, as did so many other professional football players. Indeed, studies have revealed recently that more than 80 percent of former NFL players are — or will be — afflicted by CTE, which ultimately diminishes cognitive ability.

“We’re concerned because we don’t know what the future holds. When I’m at home and I do something, if I forget something I have to stop to think, ‘Is this because I’m getting older or I’m just not using my brain, or is this an effect of playing football? I don’t know that.”

Read more about Davis’s comments here.

What does the NFL do about this? It already has taken steps to penalize players who hit other athletes on what they call “helmet-to-helmet contact.” The league has been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to players afflicted by CTE.

The NFL is now dealing almost daily with reports of athletes becoming afflicted with CTE at various stages of its progression.

The term CTE only recently has become part of every-day language, sort of like HIV/AIDS and ALS have become over the years.

Do these grown men stop doing what they do? Do we make football an illegal activity? Must the NFL resort to retooling the game into a two-hand touch football game? No, no and no.

But I surely can understand the fear that Terrell Davis and other former football players are expressing as they advance in years toward elderly status.

I suppose it would be imperative that the NFL do all it can to (a) protect the players on the field with improvements in the equipment they wear and (b) spend whatever it takes to care for those who are permanently damaged by the sport they choose to play.