Advertisement cover the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)

AIDS Quilt, the Early 1990s and Sadness

July 25, 2012

The AIDS Quilt, Washington, D.C.

The early 1990s has potentially many associations -- the break-up of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, The Lion King, Forest Gump, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and the cancellation of the baseball season, to name a few.

But we HIV/ID specialists will always remember that period for something else -- namely, that deaths from AIDS in the United States peaked then, making it an especially challenging time to practice.

I was reminded of this during the International AIDS Conference this week in Washington, as panels of the AIDS Quilt are on display both in the conference center and elsewhere around the city.

It seems like in every large display -- which usually has 10 or so individual memorial quilts, each 3 x 6 feet -- most of the deaths being acknowledged occurred in that 1990-1995 period. And the 1994 and 1995 deaths strike me as perhaps the most poignant, because these young men and women just missed getting lifesaving treatment.

And though I didn't know them personally, I did know Larry, and Greg, and Bryana, and Tony, and Bob, and George, and Tonya, and wish they could have lived just a bit longer. Then they'd have the chance to be saved by ritonavir, indinavir, nevirapine, etc., which were just a few short months away from being approved.

There's just something so sad about that.

Paul Sax is Clinical Director of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital. His blog HIV and ID Observations is part of Journal Watch, where he is Editor-in-Chief of Journal Watch AIDS Clinical Care.

This article was provided by NEJM Journal Watch. NEJM Journal Watch is a publication of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

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