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When the HIV virus emerged in the early 80’s, the public reacted with similar fear and aversion to that of the ancient peoples to lepers. The disease was labeled as ‘dirty’ due to its connection with the gay community. Little was known about it, and though research was underway, medications were not created to treat it until the late 80’s. Magic Johnson, the world famous professional basketball player was diagnosed with the HIV virus in 1991, and since then, society has grown tremendously in regards to public knowledge and acceptance of AIDS and the people who are infected with the virus. Extensive research has provided us with increasingly effective treatments for HIV. Education and access to information has improved, partly due to Johnson’s work as a spokesperson on behalf of the issue.
The AIDS epidemic started in homosexual community. The sexually transmitted disease was infecting and killing many young gay men in New York and California. The immune deficiency caused by HIV made the men vulnerable to opportunistic infections like Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Very few people knew about it, and those who did assumed the disease only targeted gay men. When Magic Johnson got the virus in 91, he had to work against the stigmas that surrounded HIV. Most people were ignorant about how the disease worked, how it was transmitted, and who it affected. Johnson experienced the doubt and nervousness of the public firsthand. People were worried he was contagious, or that the virus would inhibit his ability to play. They were suspicious of how he had gotten it and in general, they did not treat him the same way they had before he went public. Johnson organized the Magic Johnson Foundation to provide urban communities with HIV education, prevention, and testing services. His announcement helped to raise awareness and let people know that anyone can get this very serious, dangerous disease if they are not careful.
When Magic Johnson started to receive treatment, he was put on a pill called AZT, or Zidovudine. It was the first government-approved medication for HIV. The pill works to slow the growth and multiplication of HIV cells. At the time, it was a breakthrough medicine. Johnson started taking it in 91, shortly after he found out he was HIV positive. In 1995, the hard work of scientists and AIDS research made another break through. The HIV ‘cocktail’ of virus-fighting, immune-strengthening medicines was approved and Magic became one of the first patients to try it. Thanks to the scientific progress, awareness, and fundraising that Magic Johnson helped to initiate, there are effective HIV management medications on the market. HIV awareness activists like Magic have worked hard to make them available to everyone diagnosed with the disease, through financial aid or access to services. We have come a long way in the past 20 years.
Not only has treatment and management progressed, so have attitudes. People are less discriminatory against HIV positive people for a variety of reasons. HIV and AIDS information is now taught at schools. From an early age, people are informed about transmission and infection, so fear levels have decreased significantly. Despite this, however, caution is higher than before. The HIV virus is not particular in who it infects. Straight people and women can also contract the disease, so the public is more wary of it. People living with the infection are now able to live longer, fuller lives with the help of new medications. They are received more like normal people, rather than ‘dead men walking’. We have Magic Johnson and many other influential people like Elizabeth Glaser, Ryan White, and Hydeia Broadbent to thank for helping America along in our national fight against HIV and AIDS in the past 20 years.
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