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Californians Mark 40th Anniversary of AIDS Epidemic

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The fight against HIV/AIDS continues, 40 years after the disease began to ravage American cities and towns. (Nito/Adobe Stock)
The fight against HIV/AIDS continues, 40 years after the disease began to ravage American cities and towns. (Nito/Adobe Stock)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
June 11, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Forty years ago this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first cases of what would become known as HIV/AIDS, and touch off an epidemic that took 32 million lives across the globe, and 700,000 in the United States.

Rick Chavez Zbur, outgoing executive director of Equality California and a candidate for Assembly District 50 in the Santa Monica area, said Americans mustn't forget the terrible toll of this disease.

"I lost literally scores of friends to the disease, and watched our government pretty much do nothing about it for over a decade," Zbur recounted. "And so, as I think about the 40th anniversary, I think we need to remember all the people that were lost."

He added the huge loss of life and perceived inaction by the Reagan administration motivated groups like Equality California to help elect leaders who would take the disease seriously, including former President Bill Clinton, former Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Today, HIV treatments make it possible for 38 million people worldwide to live with HIV, including 1.2 million Americans.

Chavez Zbur added he's proud of the leading role California has played in making new medications more accessible.

"California is one of the states that insurance fully covers PEP and PrEP in Medi-Cal," Zbur pointed out. "And that's not the case across the country, so we need to reduce the barriers for medication that can prevent HIV."

Advocates would also like to see the repeal of laws in multiple states that criminalize the transmission of or perceived exposure to HIV and other infectious diseases, arguing the laws serve as a major disincentive for people to get tested.

Disclosure: Equality California contributes to our fund for reporting on Census, Health Issues, HIV/AIDS Prevention, and LGBTQIA Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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