Tag Archives: AIDS

The Nearly Impossible Journey of a Long-Term Survivor

An Inuit youth pulls an infant on a sled along a snow-covered street in Inuvik in Canada’'s Northwest Territories on April 3, 1974. The round building looming in the background is a Catholic church. (AP Photo)

On June 24, 1972, three boys decided to leave their residential school in Canada’s Northwest Territories and walk from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk (“Tuk”), in a bid to avoid punishment for stealing a pack of cigarettes from their dorm supervisor. Without a highway connecting Inuvik to Tuk, the boys had no idea they were undertaking an impossible journey of 90 miles over boggy tundra. At Granta, Nadim Roberts tells the story of Dennis, Jack, and Bernard — just one example of the horrific toll residential schools have exacted on Inuits, the Inuit community, and their traditional ways of life.

From the pond, the boys walked in the direction of the highest hill, where they could see power lines unspooling to the north-east. The 69,000-volt transmission lines had been strung the previous month. ‘These lines go all the way to Tuk,’ Dennis told his friends. He and Bernard were from Tuktoyaktuk, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. If they followed the power lines, they’d be home in a few hours, Dennis said. School would be over soon anyway, and if they left now, they could avoid getting in trouble.

Residential schools had existed in Canada since 1831, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that a significant number of them operated in the north. These government-sponsored religious schools were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture by ripping them away from their families and communities. When Western European colonization and evangelization finally arrived in the Arctic, what had been a relatively unscathed Inuit culture began to change rapidly. Bernard’s biological parents had been part of the first generation of Inuit that passed through these schools. It was in such an institution that they first met and fell in love.

Before 1955, fewer than 15 per cent of school-aged Inuit were enrolled in residential schools. Most children still lived on the land with their families, learning traditional skills and knowledge. Rather than teaching students how to hunt, skin game, and build igloos and kayaks, residential schools taught a curriculum used for white children in Alberta.

By 1964, more than 75 per cent of Inuit children attended residential schools. Their values, language and customs were supplanted overnight by a culture that saw itself as benevolent and superior, and saw the Inuit as primitive beings in need of sophistication. The young Inuit who went through the residential school system experienced an assault on their traditional identities that had shattering consequences: they are often referred to as the ‘lost generation’.

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Poor, Gay, Black, and Southern: America’s Hidden H.I.V. Crisis

Cover, New York Times Magazine

Ground zero in the AIDS crisis happened on June 5th, 1981, when the C.D.C.’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report identified five cases of pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in previously healthy white men in Los Angeles. The sixth case — a gay African-American man who had contracted PCP and cytomegalovirus — went undocumented. That critical omission has had a horrific ripple effect in the southern United States where the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…predicted that if current rates continue, one in two African-American gay and bisexual men will be infected with the virus.”

In this in-depth report at The New York Times Magazine, Linda Villarosa follows Cedric Sturdevant, who overcame his own despair over H.I.V. to help young black men in some of the poorest counties in the South manage their H.I.V. diagnoses so that they might live healthy, productive lives.

As he stepped into Jordon’s stuffy bedroom, Sturdevant’s eyes scanned from a wheelchair leaning against the wall to a can of Ensure on the bedside table before settling on the young man. He was rubbing his feet, wincing from H.I.V.-related neuropathy that caused what he described as “ungodly pain.” Jordon’s round, hooded eyes were sunk deep into his face. Gray sweatpants pooled around his stick-thin legs, so fragile they looked as if you could snap them in two. His arms were marked with scars from hospital visits and IVs. Over six feet tall, he weighed barely 100 pounds. He smiled slightly when he saw Sturdevant, dimples folding into his hollow cheeks. “Hey, Mr. Ced,” he said, his voice raspy.

“Are you taking your medicine?” Sturdevant asked. For many young men, the H.I.V. diagnosis and the illness are so overwhelming that maintaining a new and unfamiliar regimen of medication can be difficult. Jordon looked down. “Not as often as I should.” When he saw Sturdevant’s glare, he continued, sounding like a little boy. “I hate taking medicine; I hate it. I have to take six pills, now seven, eight, plus a shot —”

Sturdevant cut him off. “We all have to do this, Jordon. Don’t you want to get better?”

Jordon let his head fall back on the pillow. “I know I can get better, Mr. Ced,” he said, massaging his feet. “I just don’t know how everything got so bad.”

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Geek Love: On Nerditry as Salvation in ’70s Small-Town Canada

Photo by Benjamin Esham CC-BY SA 2.0

When Tom became sick in the winter of 2003, we revisited the subject of quantum entanglement. It was early winter, and we sat in his small, comically messy apartment in Toronto, surrounded by jagged lightning-bolt towers of piled books. Dead insects and tendrils of cobweb and cat dander were heaped up in giant fuzzy swaths along the baseboards; the carpet erupted with geysers of dust at the slightest touch. The windows admitted only a diffused glow even at midday.

He wanted me to understand the concept of entanglement — how, once two subatomic particles have been part of the same nucleus, even if they’re subsequently separated by an enormous distance, they remain in a kind of sympathy with each another. A change in one produces an instantaneous change in the other. The notion captures the attention of quantum-physics enthusiasts because it suggests a kind of indivisibility of matter. It also seems to contradict Einstein’s insistence that nothing, not even information, can travel faster than the speed of light.

At The Walrus, Kevin Patterson writes on how his fraternal twin brother embraced nerditry to navigate the homophobia of small-town Canada in the ’70s.

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On the Brink of a Cure: An Innovative Immunologist’s Quest for an AIDS Vaccine

Louis Picker, an immunologist at Portland’s Oregon Health & Science University, believes he’s working toward a vaccine to prevent and cure AIDS: “I think within 15 years we’ll have both.” In 2013, his vaccine research showed the first evidence of monkeys eradicating the AIDS-causing virus from their bodies; he inoculated them with weakened CMV — or cytomegalovirus, an infectious agent in the herpes family — which not only pumped up their immune systems and fought off the virus, but killed it off entirely. At Portland Monthly, Jennifer Abbasi profiles the ambitious researcher, whose project’s first human study is set to begin later this year.

Picker set out to prevent AIDS, not cure it. In 2006, he and his team began vaccinating macaques against SIV, the monkey version of HIV. The researchers placed bits of SIV genes inside weakened CMV, hoping the macaques’ immune systems would then mount their natural immediate, large-scale response to CMV. “The immune system will make a response both to the CMV genes and to the SIV or HIV genes that will be in the same flavor, so to speak,” Picker explains. This approach contrasts sharply with that of most HIV vaccine projects, which typically focus on generating antibodies to block infection. Instead, Picker’s method aims to provoke T cells to prevent an infection from progressing to disease. Two years after he inoculated the first group of monkeys with the CMV-based vaccine, he exposed them to SIV.

In 2013, Nature reported Picker’s surprising findings: not only were most of the macaques able to control SIV, but over time their immune systems completely killed off the virus. It was the first evidence of monkeys eliminating the AIDS-causing virus from their bodies. Says Koff: “Louis straddles the prevention and the cure. The most intriguing thing about his vaccine is that the responding animals appear to clear the infection.”

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Mr. and Mrs. B

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Alexander Chee | Apology Magazine | Winter 2014 | 19 minutes (4,822 words)

 

This essay by novelist Alexander Chee first appeared in Apology magazine’s third issue (Winter 2014). Apology is a semiannual print journal of art, interviews and literature, created by ex-Vice editor-in-chief Jesse Pearson. The fourth issue is available for preorder. Our thanks to Alexander Chee and Apology for allowing us to reprint this essay here.

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How could you, my friends would ask, when I told them. How could you work for someone like him? Do you ever want to just pick up a knife and stab him in the neck? Poison his food?

You would be a hero, one friend said.

I did not want to stab him, and I did not want to poison him. From our first meeting, it was clear, he was in decline. And as for how could I, well, like many people, I needed the money. Read more…

How Halston’s Death Galvanized the Fashion Industry to Take Action Against AIDS

But not all AIDS deaths were hushed up; indeed, there was a backlash against the conspiracy of silence. Before Way Bandy—one of the industry’s top makeup artists—died on August 13, 1986, he directed his executors to announce his death as AIDS-related. And Halston acknowledged the cause of his own death on March 26, 1990, in the classiest possible way, leaving instructions for his prized Rolls-Royce to be auctioned off and the proceeds donated to AIDS research.

In Halston, fashion found its Rock Hudson: a superstar who could put a familiar face to the dreaded disease. Both Time and People addressed AIDS and fashion in their next issues; People put a smiling Halston on its cover, flanked by Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor. “He put American fashion on the map,” the cover line read. “He died last week of AIDS, a broken man.” Halston’s death finally galvanized the industry to take real action against the disease; later that year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) staged its first Seventh on Sale fundraiser, inspiring similar events in Paris and Milan. But no one fooled themselves into thinking that it couldn’t get any worse. As CFDA president Carolyne Roehm told People: “I shudder to think how many more we may lose.”

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell writing in The Atlantic about how the fashion industry grappled with the AIDS crisis, and Chester Weinberg, the first fashion designer to succumb to the disease. Weinberg died in April 1985.

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Why is the AIDS Epidemic So Severe in the United States?

Michael Hobbes is a human rights consultant living in Berlin.

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Last May I wrote an article for The New Republic about how the AIDS epidemic has been way more severe in the United States than the rest of the developed world. More people have died of AIDS in New York City, for example, than Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland combined.

I know, it sounds like I’m making this up, that I’m reading the numbers wrong. I spent months trying to figure out what explained this huge gap.

Writing the article didn’t get me un-obsessed with this, and this winter, I started working on a video that put all the numbers and reasons in one place.

The nice thing about videos is that you can present a ton of information without having to explain each data point. Here’s the differences in death rates between US states, for example. I could only mention a few of these in my story, but I put all of them in my video.

US HIV Death Rates

And here’s one of the most major, most obvious reasons we do so poorly in keeping people with HIV alive in this country: We don’t get them on treatment early or consistently enough.

Treatment Rates cropped

But it’s not just our health care system. The virus arrived here earlier, and it spread faster. By 1995, when anti-retroviral therapy became available, the U.S. had more than 750,000 people living with HIV. Germany and Britain had fewer than 40,000.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away, it’s probably quicker if you just watch the video. One of the challenges of these explainers is that it’s easier to present data, but harder to present caveats. HIV surveillance systems differ pretty significantly across countries, and even the term ‘AIDS death’ means something different depending on which country is reporting it.

All the epidemiologists I talked to for this story told me to think of the numbers as a range, subject to updates and re-estimations as more data comes in. I don’t think I did a great job expressing that in the video. Luckily, it’s on YouTube, so I’m sure we’ll have a sophisticated methodological discussion in the comments.

 

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You can read more from Michael Hobbes over at his blog, Rotten in Denmark.