ANALYSIS: Media Watch - Media somber reflecting on 20 years sinceAIDS discovery

June marked the 20th anniversary of the first published report on

AIDS, which US News & World Report (June 4) referred to as "the most

devastating epidemic since 14th-century Europe's bubonic plague." The

media marked the date with a solemn recitation of the grim statistics

associated with the disease: 775,000 Americans have been diagnosed with

AIDS, of which 450,000 have died of it. An estimated 800,000 are

believed to be HIV positive.

And the news gets worse when you look at the impact on a global scale:

about 36 million people currently have AIDS, while another 20 million or

so have died from it.

Coverage focused most often on the progress that has been made to treat

the disease and, ultimately, cure it. While reports noted that no one

could say for sure if or when a cure could be found, doctors cited in

reports seemed to agree that a cure would be at least seven years


Despite the lack of a cure, the Houston Chronicle (June 4) was upbeat on

the progress that has been made in treating AIDS: "The good news today

is that many people are living longer, healthier lives because of a drug

regimen ... (that) now means that HIV/AIDS can be treated as a chronic,

rather than a terminal disease."

However, some media reports noted that progress in treating AIDS has had

an unintended side effect of increasing complacency about the


Time (June 11) wrote, "The gay press is filled with delightful ads for

HIV medications that depict healthy, happy-looking guys who seem too

busy racing the Iditarod to be sick. Last month, the FDA actually had to

order drugmakers to tone down the upbeat ads for HIV drugs - and remind

readers that, oh yeah, HIV is lethal."

Meanwhile, The Sun-Sentinel (June 2) reminded the public, "Prevention

needs to be emphasized as much as treatment." Surgeon General David

Hatcher agreed, telling National Public Radio (June 5), "As a nation as

a whole, we don't take prevention as seriously as we should." Reports

noted that prevention efforts are often impeded by a reluctance to

discuss sex education in a frank manner and lack political support to

allocate sufficient funds to the cause. Other stories emphasized that

AIDS must be viewed as an equal opportunity killer, not just a disease

associated with certain lifestyles or ethnic backgrounds.

Other reports focused on a key finding of a recently released report by

the Centers for Disease Control - that AIDS is making a resurgence,

particularly in young gay black men. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(June 3) noted that AIDS has replaced homicide as the leading cause of

death among young black men and termed this "a crisis for black


Only some of the analyzed reports took the opportunity to urge activism

among the public to help defeat AIDS. These reports recommended that

members of the public volunteer their time at a local AIDS clinic, make

a financial contribution, or make phone calls to elected officials

asking them to support prevention and treatment efforts.

The media were solemn on the 20th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS,

with few predictions that the next 20 years will see fewer deaths than

the previous 20. While some progress has been made in building awareness

and treating the disease, the media appears unanimous that more needs to

be done.

Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found


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