AIDS DEATHS: Bay Area Reporter Posts No Obits
"No obituaries were filed with the paper for this issue, a first since the AIDS epidemic exploded in San Francisco's gay community," Timothy Rodrigues writes in the Aug. 13 issue of the Bay Area Reporter. Rodrigues laces this good news with a few words of caution. "That doesn't mean that there were no AIDS deaths in the past week; next week's issue may have more obits than usual," he says. However, "after more than 17 years of struggle and death, and some weeks with as many as 31 obituaries printed in the B.A.R., it seems a new reality may be taking hold, and the community may be on the verge of a new era of the epidemic," he says, adding tentatively, "Perhaps." (Rodrigues, B.A.R., 8/13 issue). An accompanying editorial, titled, "Death Takes A Holiday," states, "We tried not to get too excited about it too soon. ... So we waited patiently, quietly, to see how many this week's mail would bring. And then there were none. ... Although we fully expect to receive more obits than usual next week, for such is the nature of life and death, we also hope to see a time when issues of the B.A.R. without obituaries are commonplace" (Bay Area Reporter, 8/13).
Activists Slow To Rejoice ...
Rodrigues' tone is echoed by several AIDS activists in the area, who at best expressed cautious optimism upon hearing the news. Dana Van Gorder, director of gay and lesbian health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said, "It is certainly refreshing, and I think we deserve a break like that. By the same token, it is hard to imagine that it will last forever." The B.A.R. reports that "[i]f current estimates are correct, 10 people may have been infected by HIV in the last week, and it is estimated that 15,000 people living in San Francisco are HIV-positive." City Health Director Dr. Mitch Katz said, "We are heartened by the substantial decreases in death due to AIDS in San Francisco and elsewhere." Katz used the good news as a vehicle to encourage more research. "Our challenge is to develop therapies for people who are failing the currently available medications and to develop less expensive and more easily administered regimens, so that more people can benefit from HIV treatment." He emphasized that prevention remains "the most effective HIV treatment." Bill Musick, executive director of Maitri Residential Care for People Living with AIDS, "said a Maitri resident did die of AIDS last week," although it was not recorded in the B.A.R.. Guy Vandenberg, director of external programs at Continuum HIV Day Services "cautioned that 'the folks who are dying are not necessarily B.A.R. readers.'" He said "the first death of a client of the outreach program was a man who died alone, sitting in a chair, in a ... residence hotel. He had no one to write his obituary" (Bay Area Reporter, 8/13).
... While Nation Reacts With Optimism.
The news was heralded around the country, with headlines such as "Good News -- On An Obit Page." The Los Angeles Times printed an original story, and papers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Arizona Daily Star, Austin American-Statesman, Detroit News, CNN and Nando Times all picked up the Associated Press report. The Los Angeles Times attributed the lack of deaths to combination therapy, noting, "[t]he new drugs are widely believed to be responsible for the dramatic decline in AIDS deaths over the last two years" (Curtius, Los Angeles Times, 8/15). The Associated Press reports "the first noticeable drop in obits began two years ago with the introduction of protease inhibitors and other powerful AIDS drugs that subdue the virus" (Kligman, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/15).