To overcome COVID-19, look at how the United States handled AIDS
To overcome COVID-19, look at how the United States handled AIDS

To overcome COVID-19, look at how the United States handled AIDS

When it comes to figuring out the best way to deal with COVID-19, the way the nation handled the HIV / AIDS crisis from 40 years ago could be a good starting point.

When it comes to figuring out the best way to deal with COVID-19, the way the nation handled the HIV / AIDS crisis from 40 years ago could be a good starting point.

Richard Sorian is intimately acquainted with the subject. The senior vice president of communications for 340B Health, a group of public and private nonprofit hospitals and healthcare systems, lost his brother to HIV in the mid-1990s. Sorian reflected on her brother’s death in a recent article in Health Affairs on how we can quarrel with the virus to a manageable level.



“Most people have the impulse to say, ‘I want to do something to protect myself.’ [and] “Protect my family,” Sorian told the WTOP. “We’ve gotten a little better in some ways, but in other ways we’re just doing the same thing in another era.”

Sorian said the government was unable to speak with a clear and consistent voice about what was going on, especially at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Even today, he said, people are confused because they hear messages from different places and there is little coherence between them.

He suggests a three-step process to help curb the virus:

  1. What is the message? What does science tell us about the disease that people need to know?
  2. Who is the messenger? It’s best if it’s one person.
  3. Hammer that message home again and again.

During the HIV / AIDS epidemic, Sorian said, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop was the trusted messenger that President Ronald Reagan had received.

People found him credible because he was a doctor, even though some of his actions – such as sending AIDS information to all U.S. households and advocates for condom use to stop the transmission of the disease – were not welcomed by everyone at the time. .

Sorian pointed out that the gay community set up prevention programs and started talking about using condoms long before the government did. Yet when Koop spoke, people listened.

With so many voices in our public discourse now, especially over social media, Sorian said, it’s harder to determine what information is relevant.

More votes have also meant more criticism directed at scientists and doctors throughout the pandemic, which Sorian said has damaged doctors’ ability to communicate and public confidence.

The country had to normalize the talk of homosexuality to deal with the AIDS epidemic, and Sorian said it is important to overcome these challenges around COVID to prevent further losses.

“We are not forgetting the people – the people we lost – and an entire generation of people were deeply affected by the AIDS pandemic,” Sorian said. “Let us not forget that this implies that individuals have these losses and leave that hole … in your life that lasts a long time.”

WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis contributed to this report.

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