Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS

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.

HIV/AIDS gets short shrift from Trump administration

Here’s a quick story about the respective value two Republican presidents have placed on researching a cure for HIV/AIDS.

One of them is George W. Bush, who in 2002 managed to create an agency called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. It has delivered an enormous contribution to the worldwide fight against the dreaded disease.

In 2004, I was fortunate enough to attend the International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok, Thailand, where I learned that because of PEPFAR, the United States has given more money to AIDS research than every other nation in the world combined.

President Bush began pondering such an initiative in 1998 when he was still governor of Texas but considering a run for the presidency in 2000.

Now, let’s fast-forward to 2017. President Barack Obama has departed the White House after two terms and Donald J. Trump has settled into his new gig. What’s happened to the national effort on HIV/AIDS research? Six members of the president’s HIV/AIDS council have quit in anger. They say Trump doesn’t care about HIV/AIDS.

According to The Hill newspaper: “The group said that the administration ‘has no strategy’ to address HIV/AIDS, doesn’t consult experts when working on policy and ‘pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.'”

They wrote in their letter of resignation: “As advocates for people living with HIV, we have dedicated our lives to combating this disease and no longer feel we can do so effectively within the confines of an advisory body to a president who simply does not care.”

This, dear reader, looks to be yet another travesty of the Donald J. Trump administration.

Clinton takes back … a compliment

HIV-AIDS

Here’s how it usually goes when a politician retracts a statement.

The pol usually says something negative about someone else, only to be shown that the comment was unfounded. The politician then might take at least some of it back, declaring a lack of complete understanding.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, though, did something quite different this week.

She attended the funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan and then offered high praise for the work Mrs. Reagan and her husband, President Ronald Reagan, did to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Well, to borrow an exclamation: Oops!

Turns out the Reagans didn’t do what Clinton said they did. They were not champions for HIV/AIDS research.

AIDS activists and leaders of the LGBT community were quick to call Clinton out on her misstatement.

President Reagan didn’t even mention AIDS — which was initially diagnosed in 1981, the first year of his presidency — until 1987. As for Mrs. Reagan, she was silent on the issue as well.

Yes, the backlash was intense in the wake of Clinton’s comments.

As the New York Times reported: “While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS,” she said in a statement about two hours after her interview had been shown on MSNBC. “For that, I’m sorry.”

I am pretty sure that Clinton’s staff did not serve her well in prepping her for the TV interview in which she “misspoke.”

Indeed, if the leading Democratic presidential candidate would be of a mind to praise any Republican for their work on HIV/AIDS research, it ought to go President George W. Bush, on whose watch the PEPFAR program was initiated.

While touring Southeast Asia with other journalists in 2004 on a mission to learn about the impact of AIDS in that part of the world, we were told that because of PEPFAR — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — the United States was spending more on AIDS research than the rest of the world combined.

The Reagans weren’t in the game. Yes, the late former first lady has earned high praise for her Alzheimer’s awareness efforts. Not so with HIV/AIDS.

Now we’ll get to see how nimble Hillary Clinton can be in the face of some stinging rebukes over what one leading gay activist called her “idiotic, false – and heartbreaking” tribute.

Does one ‘choose’ to be gay?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has entered the Republican presidential field.

He’s also said he doesn’t know if people choose to be gay.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-i-dont-know-presidential-candidate/2015/07/20/12fd3aba-2f08-11e5-8f36-18d1d501920d_story.html?hpid=z2

The columnist Richard Cohen posed what I presume to be a rhetorical question: “At what point did he (Walker) decide to be heterosexual? At what age did he decide that he would not be homosexual or, if he had the energy, bisexual? I know for myself that I am unaware of making such a decision and did not mark it down — as I now would — in my Google Calendar or tweet it to much of America and the ships at sea.”

It’s a question that’s likely to dog the governor as he campaigns for the GOP presidential nomination.

I keep falling back to another question posed by a gay friend of mine. His name was Tim. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1994. After he revealed to his friends and colleagues that he had contracted HIV, he and I discussed his sexual orientation. “Why would I choose to be vilified and condemned?” Tim asked.

Why, indeed?

Tim said he didn’t choose his sexual orientation. He considered it to be part of his DNA, of his character, of his very being

I don’t know when, or if, Gov. Walker will ever reach a conclusion on people’s sexual orientation. He’ll likely have to decide before his presidential campaign gets too far down the road.

ESPN to honor Caitlyn Jenner … for what?

Bob Costas is a smart sports journalist who goes far beyond who gets the most hits, scores the most touchdowns or sinks the most three-point field goals.

He’s been known to offer opinions on a wide range of issues beyond the field of competition.

He often is spot on.

I think he’s on target with his assertion that ESPN’s plan to honor Caitlyn Jenner with a special courage award, named after the late tennis great Arthur Ashe, is an attempt to exploit Jenner and boost the network’s ratings.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/10/bob-costas-caitlyn-jenner-arthur-ashe_n_7555508.html

This likely will be the final thing I’ll say about Jenner, whose sex changed from man to woman. Jenner once was Bruce Jenner, Olympic decathlon champion who turned into a reality TV personality; he married Kris Kardashian and became the foil for his former wife and her daughters.

Then Bruce became Caitlyn.

I’m not sure about the “courage” it took to do such a thing. Jenner always has struck me as someone who craves publicity. She’s getting a ton of it now.

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is named after the tennis great who died of AIDS complications in 1993. He announced to the world that had contracted HIV through a tainted blood transfusion. It broke the hearts of a sports nation that had admired him for his talent on the tennis court and his courtly, gentlemanly demeanor.

Caitlyn Jenner earning an award in memory of Arthur Ashe? It just doesn’t feel right.

There. I’m out.

 

Shriver steps into Alzheimer’s battle

It’s presumptuous, I know, to refer to yourself and a famous person in the same sentence.

But I’ll do so anyway.

I feel Maria Shriver’s pain as she engages in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/13/opinions/shriver-wipe-out-alzheimers/index.html

This merciless killer claimed her father, the great Sargent Shriver, the way it took my own mother. It did so brutally and with extreme malice. It robbed Maria’s father of his towering intellect, just as it stole my own mother’s quick wit and intelligence.

I’m with Maria Shriver as she wages war on Alzheimer’s disease.

She notes in a CNN essay that the disease remains an unknown, despite the fact that it has claimed 5 million victims already — in the United States alone!

Her essay references a group called Wipe Out Alzheimer’s. Shriver writes: “We’re asking women to put together their own “brain trusts” in their communities — groups that will go out and do some muscular fund-raising. But equally important, these brain trusts will gather to discuss and disseminate information about what the disease is and isn’t. What are the warning signs we should look for in ourselves and our parents? What’s the difference between normal forgetfulness, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? Can brain games or meditation slow cognitive decline? Do dietary supplements help?”

Shriver notes that women seem more inclined to get the disease than men. She also believes women hold the key to rounding up more money to pay for the research that is needed to fight this killer disease.

Shriver said: “It’s time for the narrative around Alzheimer’s to change. I remember when an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. I remember when cancer was a dirty word, and the prognosis was always grim. But AIDS and cancer activists are helping to take these diseases from terrifying to treatable, from hopeless to hopeful. We want to do the same with Alzheimer’s. We want to understand it, prevent it, treat it and beat it. Wipe Out Alzheimer’s is creating a global community of women activists, agitators and agents of change to do just that.”

You go, Maria Shriver. I’m betting you’ll find a lot of men ready and able to join the fight, too.