AIDS Decade in Review With Larry Kramer, Richard Marlink, MD, and Pernessa Seele

WebMD Live Events Transcript

It was the decade of protease inhibitors, safe sex, Lazarus, and survivor guilt. Join Larry Kramer, Richard Marlink, MD, and Pernessa Seele for a special interactive audiocast to reflect on AIDS in the '90s.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Event Moderator: Welcome to WebMD's special interactive audiocast! We have a great show today. The topic is "AIDS: Decade in Review," and to reflect on AIDS in the 90's, we have a wonderful panel of guests joining us for the hour.

Larry Kramer is a writer and AIDS activist. He is a co-founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (known as ACT UP), and Treatment Data Project. He is the author of 'The Normal Heart,' 'Faggots,' and 'The Destiny of Me.'

Dr. Richard Marlink is the senior research director and lecturer at the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health, and executive director of the Harvard AIDS Institute.

We also have Pernessa Seele, who is the founder and CEO of The Balm in Gilead Inc., an organization working through African-American churches to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community and to support those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

To everyone out there listening, remember, you can submit questions and comments for our guests at any time during this hour. Simply type in the question line and click submit or hit enter.

A big welcome to all of our guests, and thank you for joining us today.

Ms. Seele: Thank you for having us.

Mr. Kramer: You're welcome. Let's go.

Event Moderator: Well, we've reached the millennium, and AIDS has been around for over two decades now. Many people thought it would be over by now, that a cure would have already been found. UNAIDS recently reported that 2.6 million people died of AIDS in 1999, which is the largest number ever for a single year. The AIDS pandemic has taken 16 million lives since 1980. Fifty million people have been infected since then, 33 million of which are still alive, and 5.6 million of those infections occurred in 1999. Also very important to note is that 95 percent of infections are in developing nations, and these are the countries that account for only 10 percent of the world's wealth. So that's where the numbers stand at the beginning of 2000.

Mr. Kramer: Yes, but those numbers are just peanuts compared to what we're facing, and make it sound -- if I may say so, relatively puny. There was a figure in Time magazine in the end of their year issue, put out by Dr. David Ho at Rockefeller, who said that 1 billion people are going to be infected by the year 2002. One billion people! So that makes the -- you know, the few millions that you mentioned which are figures that our government puts out, usually woefully way behind, sound very small indeed, and terrifyingly small.

Dr. Marlink: This is Richard Marlink. Larry, I agree. It's sad though that after two decades, we still have to have these numbing numbers to gather attention, and the fact that the millions and the hundreds of thousands in this country don't gather enough attention is perhaps the sad part of that prediction.

Mr. Kramer: Well, we've had to fact that since the beginning. I think that maybe I would like to spend this hour scaring people, quite frankly, because I think that the passivity has become terribly, terribly dangerous. I think in America we somehow feel that it's gone away because of very wrong-headed articles in the New York Times Magazine and by people like Andrew Sullivan saying AIDS has gone away, and we've now discovered, very much so that it hasn't, and that these drugs that everybody said were going to cure us, aren't going to cure us.

Dr. Marlink: I was getting off a plane when that article came out. I had just gotten back from Africa, and it literally made me cry when I saw that -- the sentiment is AIDS is over, and we know it's not over.

Mr. Kramer: I think, for those of who follow the literature, the medical literature, what's no longer beginning -- what's appearing more and more, is terribly frightening reports that the proteases, the cocktails simply are not working in a larger and larger percentage of people, and that these new drugs that are coming out right, left, and center have such horrendous side effects that people simply are beginning to refuse to take them. I think, for instance, it's unconscionable for a company like DuPont to put out a drug like Sustiva, which has side effects that are so overwhelmingly awful that my doctor here at NYU says that 50 percent of his patients can't tolerate it, and that's a new drug. How are we going to get drugs for Africa? How are we going to get drugs that people around the world are capable of taking simply if the stuff that they shovel down our throats here is so grotesque? You should read the list of side effects that Sustiva causes in people, that they even print in their ads. This is a third -- a second or third generation drug. I begged Dr. Fouche at NIH and he said he would follow through -- that we really must start putting pressure on the pharmaceutical companies to make us drugs that don't have such horrible side effects. A third generation drug should not be harder to take than a first generation drug, I'm sorry. I'm really passionate about all this. And more and more people I know are refusing to take drugs at all, which is very interesting. They'd rather just not feel that sick. And if the drug companies -- maybe that's the way to deal with the drug companies. If everybody would stop taking their drugs, then they wouldn't be making the billions that they make if they put out a new drug.