How to Survive a Plague
AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) is a movement advocating for the improvement of the lives of people with HIV/AIDS and calling for legislation, research, and treatment to eliminate the disease. ACT UP was created in March 1987 in New York at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center (“How to Survive a Plague”). The movement was active and organized many demonstrations advocating for effective AIDS policies against the epidemic from 1987 to the mid-1990s.
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The main strategy of ACT UP was direct-action protests which reached their peak in 1988, when the activists managed to close Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for one day on October 11 by preventing the workers and officials from entering the building. Their purpose was to make medical establishments and the U.S. government develop effective medications against HIV/AIDS.
They demanded from FDA to develop and approve medications that could delay or even stop the development of the virus and to make drug trials shorter than the usual seven to ten years so that the treatment could be available in a short period to save more people from this deadly disease (“How to Survive a Plague”). Many people with HIV/AIDS were forced to buy unreliable and unapproved drugs on the black market to have the smallest chance of survival.
The only drug that could decelerate the progression of AIDS at that time was AZT. However, this drug was toxic for people and, therefore, caused severe side effects such as complete blindness. The cost of this was also very high, namely, $10,000 a year.
Finally, ACT UP managed to influence FDA, and on the International AIDS Conference in 1991, a new drug called DDI was approved being a better alternative for AZT and not causing pernicious side effects. Although by that time DDI had not gone through all necessary trials, the results were positive, and the drug was more effective than AZT (Westervelt). Another ACT UP’s campaign was aimed at protesting against the immigration policies that discriminated HIV positive people and prevented them from entering the USA.
Later, the ACT UP and the Treatment Action Group (TAG) demanded that the government conducted more research, as neither AZT nor DDI were effective in terms of the treatment of HIV/AIDS. As a result, in 1996, the FDA released protease inhibitors, which could significantly decrease the reproduction of the virus, thereby prolonging the lives of patients with HIV/AIDS even more (Westervelt). At that time, it was a breakthrough, and these medications are widely used against the virus now, but in a more modified form.
In terms of the advantages of ACT UP strategies, there were many of them, as if not for the activists, many more people could have died from AIDS at that time. They managed to accelerate the process of developing and approving medications against HIV/AIDS. They also emphasized on the homophobic and discriminatory behavior of the government towards HIV positive people (“How to Survive a Plague”). The main disadvantage of their strategy was that they wanted untested medications, which was a risk because if these medications turned out to be harmful or deadly, more people could have died from them but not from the disease.
This was the main difference between activists and expert claim makers. The experts’ opinion was also to find a cure for HIV/AIDS as soon as possible, but they were reluctant to release untested drugs (Westervelt). Understandably, the activists wanted to take a risk, and they had no choice, as most of them were infected with AIDS, whereas the experts could not allow themselves to be responsible for people’s sudden deaths in case the drugs turned out to be dangerous. Regarding the media, it viewed the AIDS crisis as a big threat and increased public awareness of its consequences.
How to Survive a Plague. Directed by David France, performances by Peter Staley, Larry Kramer, and Iris Long, Public Square Films, 2012.
Westervelt, Eric. “ACT UP At 30: Reinvigorated For Trump Fight.” NPR. 2017. Web.