An Explanation from President Thabo Mbeki
In April 2000 South African President Thabo Mbeki explained his views on HIV/AIDS in this five-page letter he sent to President Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others. "[A]s Africans, we have to deal with this uniquely African catastrophe," he writes. "It is obvious that whatever lessons we have to and may draw from the West about the grave issue of HIV-AIDS, a simple superimposition of Western experience on African reality would be absurd and illogical." Mbeki also defends the AIDS denialists: "Not long ago, in our own country, people were killed, tortured, imprisoned and prohibited from being quoted in private and in public because the established authority believed that their views were dangerous and discredited. We are now being asked to do precisely the same thing that the racist apartheid tyranny we opposed did, because, it is said, there exists a scientific view that is supported by the majority, against which dissent is prohibited." The letter was leaked to The Washington Post, infuriating and embarrassing Mbeki.
Elizabeth Taylor's Letter to President Reagan
In 1987, the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who was serving as the national chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), wrote the following letter to President Reagan, asking him to deliver a speech at a fundraising dinner amfAR was holding in Washington D.C. The president agreed, and he delivered the speech on May 31, 1987 (see below). It was his second major public speech on AIDS. Throughout his presidency, Reagan had distanced himself from the AIDS epidemic.
Presidential Briefing Memo
A memo written by two Reagan White House lawyers, Deborah K. Owen and John G. Roberts -- who is now chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. It responds to some briefing points on AIDS that were put together in advance of a presidential press conference. Anticipating questions about allowing children with AIDS to attend public schools, the original briefing points advised sympathy for parents and children and emphasized that there was no danger from casual or routine contact. However, Roberts wrote, "I would not like to see the President reassuring the public on this point, only to find out he was wrong later. There is much to commend the view that we should assume AIDS can be transmitted through casual or routine contact, as is true with many viruses, until it is demonstrated that it cannot be, and no scientist has said AIDS definitively cannot be so transmitted."
The Global AIDS Disaster
A 1991 declassified U.S. intelligence report that predicts with uncanny accuracy how AIDS threatened the world. With chapter headings titled "A time bomb for the 1990s," "AIDS is now global," "AIDS in Africa getting worse" and "Grim future," the report predicted 45 million global infections by the year 2000. (PDF File, Acrobat Reader Required)
A Plea for More Funding
On a day in 1983 when Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler told Congress that no further funding for AIDS was necessary, Dr. Don Francis, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sent this memo to his bosses. "Our government's response to this disaster has been far too little," he wrote. "… The inadequate funding to date has seriously restricted our work and has presumably deepened the invasion of this disease into the American population."
The Trial of Compound Q
In 1989, activist Martin Delaney, who had founded Project Inform to share information and accelerate advances in treatment for people living with HIV, set up an unauthorized clinical trial to evaluate what was thought to be a promising new AIDS drug -- Compound Q. This transcript from the Jan. 31, 1990 edition of "The AIDS Quarterly" describes what happened in the trial. "The AIDS Quarterly," produced by WGBH/Boston and hosted by Peter Jennings, was the first national ongoing series to cover the AIDS epidemic.