'AIDS crisis and COVID-19 not comparable', say sexual health advocates

Although many have drawn similarities between the two epidemics, the LGBT+ community of Capitol Hill say the difference is in the response.

Image: AP Photo

Despite many making comparisons to the HIV outbreak and AIDS crisis in the 1980s to the current COVID-19 pandemic, leaders in Washington D.C’s Capitol Hill LGBT+ community warn against the analogy of the two crises as despite having certain similarities, the response by the public and governments differ greatly. 

Fred Swanson, the Executive Director of Seattle’s LGBT+ centre, ‘Gay City’ lived through the AIDS crisis himself and says there is a clear difference between the two outbreaks and that is the level of care.

Swanson explained;  “With HIV no one cared. It was a joke to the president. It was affecting a community that was hated and reviled, and no one cared about. [We had to] care for ourselves.

“Nobody else was interested in caring for us. That’s a critical difference now where you have [the] mobilisation of local, state, and federal government officials and public spokespeople really advocating for people to implement social distancing, or get testing widely available.”

Brian Minalga who works as a project manager in the Office of HIV/AIDS Network Coordination at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center also warned against drawing parallels between the AIDS crisis and COVID-19 and that any comparisons made should be “trauma-informed”.

Minalga highlighted the dangers in connecting the two outbreaks saying: “In the 80s and 90s we were literally fighting for our lives[..]This has created a deep trauma that lasts for generations. When we hear these comparisons to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, it’s a reminder of how expendable our lives were at that time, and still are now.”

Mark S. King, an HIV/AIDS advocate backed up these sentiments that the two are not comparable, stating that not only did tens of thousands of people die of AIDS-related complications before the US government stepped in to help, but many of those affected “spent their last breaths in the centre of protests in the streets, begging for justice and relief. Their ashes were dumped on the White House lawn.”

Although leaders in the gay community of Capitol Hill have made it very that the two are nowhere near the same and comparing the two is harmful to those who lived through the AIDS crisis, Minalga drew one parallel saying the coronavirus follows “the path of social inequity the same way that HIV follows the path of social inequity”, as it also targets society’s most vulnerable members.

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