The 10 Greatest Villains of the AIDS Epidemic
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Last Known Whereabouts: He’s dead too, as of a month ago. The Times’ obit was so loaded with treacle there wasn't space to include Sencer’s 1983 claim that new cases of AIDS “appears pretty much to have leveled off,” though such a belief would have helped readers understand his lethal stasis. Nor did the Times see fit to quote him, also in 1983, saying he could “see no reason why we would close the bath houses” -- as if New York being home to half the country’s AIDS cases ( 71 percent of whom were gay men) was not reason enough.
Ed Koch, New York City mayor
Crime: It bothered Koch terribly, he told New York in 1988, “that militants among gays believe that San Francisco has done more for treating AIDS patients … than New York City. It’s totally untrue.” It totally isn’t. San Francisco’s response to the AIDS epidemic wasn’t perfect, but it far exceeded all other cities -- funding for hospice beds, AIDS wards and clinics. Koch, on the other hand, refused to authorize hospice care for the afflicted homeless, and when asked by Gay Men’s Health Crisis for use of an abandoned high school as an "AIDS service center" demanded $2 million. A full two years into the epidemic, New York City hadn’t spent a cent on education or services -- “despite,” observed Randy Shilts, “being home to 45 percent of the nation's AIDS victims.”
Last Known Whereabouts: Koch went full-tilt wingnut boogie, endorsing Bush in 2004. He maintains, against all available evidence, that his record on gay rights is solid, and told the New York Post it’s a “ fucking outrage” to suggest otherwise. He maintains a Youtube channel on which he occasionally reviews movies. How’s he doing? Pretty shitty.
Dr. Joseph Bove, Officer of the American Association of Blood Banks
Crime: Bove, a member of the FDA’s blood safety committee, prioritized the business of blood banking above safety. By 1983, scientists were fairly certain that AIDS could be spread through blood transfusions, citing the rising number of cases among hemophiliacs and drug addicts as evidence. The American Red Cross endeavored to publicize a plan to carefully screen donors, and Bove flipped. “We have no medical or scientific evidence that justifies such a course right now,” he said. “I think it’s an overreaction.” In August 1983 Bove testified before Congress and famously said that if AIDS could be transmitted via a blood transfusion, the chance was one in a million. This line was repeated again and again, and wasn’t remotely true. As a result, the ELISA test wasn’t adopted for blood screening until February 1985, by which time tens of thousands had died.
Last Known Whereabouts: In 1996, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled that the American Association of Blood Banks had been negligent when it refused to rigorously screen donated blood. The court upheld a $405,000 jury award to William Snyder, who in 1984 contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during open-heart surgery at New Jersey’s St. Joseph's Hospital. “The foreseeability, not the conclusiveness, of harm suffices to give rise to a duty of care," the judge wrote. “By 1983, ample evidence supported the conclusion that blood transmitted the AIDS virus.”
Margaret Heckler, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Crime: In 1983, four months into her term, Heckler told a congressional committee that she “[didn’t] think there is another dollar that would make a difference” for federal AIDS researchers. That was news to the CDC, whose staff had to steal equipment from the other labs, and who were appalled at Heckler’s repeated assertion that AIDS was the administration’s “number-one health priority.” One attempt to paper over her boss’s failures was particularly awful -- a photo-op with an AIDS patient from Cabrini Medical Center. A dozen hospitals wisely said no. A decent gauge of Heckler’s competence was her famous 1984 prediction: “We hope to have such a vaccine ready for testing in approximately two years.”