ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Call it a tale of two viruses. HIV and Covid-19 have taken the lives of thousands of people around the world, but some people have noticed society’s response to the viral infections were drastically different.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill spoke with a local LGBTQ activist who has lived through both epidemics and he explains why he believes society was more sympathetic to those who contracted one over the other.
“I know in the beginning, I would tell my family ‘you’re dealing with what we dealt with in the 80s,’” says Jim Nixon, the LGBTQ liaison for the mayor’s office of St. Petersburg. He still remembers when AIDS was first reported 40 years ago in 1981 and how it took the lives of many gay men.
“We have an entire generation of gay men that are missing.” He says many health and government officials wouldn’t even refer to the disease by name, rendering people who were living with AIDS virtually invisible. In fact, he says HIV was known as the “gay man’s disease.”
“In the 80s, HIV and AIDS were completely undiscussed.” He believes it wasn’t discussed because of who it primarily affected. “To people in the community, it seemed as if they really just did not care and because it was gay men, it didn’t matter.”
He says there are similarities between the AIDS and Covid-19 pandemics, yet he believes society wasn’t as compassionate to those who contracted AIDS. “So, there was that stigma that came with HIV.” That stigma is another thing that HIV and Covid-19 have in common. “Because as we see people who get Covid, they aren’t necessarily sharing that diagnosis all the time.”
UNAIDS estimates that by the end of 2019, about 76 million people had been infected with AIDS since the start of the epidemic and about 33 million have died. “We’ve come a long way with medications to offset HIV.” With the vaccines and treatment advances, deaths from COVID-19 are also declining.