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Life after AIDS

Cover-up or no cover-up, honesty, secrecy, or confusion, one thing is clear: nothing will ever be quite the same again. AIDS is fundamentally altering fashions, behaviour, culture---in fact every fibre of our society. In some placs fat is back in fashion: `Who wants to look thin?---Perhaps he has AIDS.'  The Hollywood dinosaur of the movie industry is thrashing its tail and the ground is shaking. Television producers are stepping over each other in their zeal to include AIDS in soap operas, plays and comedies.

Magazines like Cosmopolitan say that smart girls carry condoms. They hope that smart girls will not feel like loose girls when they produce the packet. They hope too for a new courage and honesty so that people will always tell of their unfaithfulness and promiscuity or drug addiction. They hope for new security in relationships so that when a girl or boy suggests using a condom, the other will not treat it as a terrible insult or lack of trust.

Whether such hopes will remain hopes or get built into a strange harsh reality of rubber-separated sex is unclear. But one thing is almost inevitable: out of the ashes of the crematorium will rise a new sub-culture which will affect a whole generation in many parts of the world: a culture of stable relationships and marriages. A culture where a man and a woman find mutual sexual fulfilment for life.

The reality is that even an AIDS cure in 2008 or a remarkable vaccine in 2010 will not erase the traumas of a generation, nor eradicate the problem. As we have seen with the resurgence of TB and syphilis, low-cost treatment does not mean the end of the story. The message is burning home: sleeping around has always been unhealthy. Now it can be suicidal. Taking AIDS out still leaves the other epidemics untouched. The mid-twenty-first century will look at the 1980s, 1990s, and the early years of the next century as the `era of AIDS'. The reasons for its spread, its origins, the apathy of governments, and the mistakes of scientists will be debated by historians for generations.

AIDS is likely to dominate the rest of our adult lives---especially the lives of doctors and nurses, and of young people becoming sexually active today. The question is this: will you be able to hold your head high? Will you be proud of the way you responded when you look back on it all?

Apart from a radical change of lifestyle in our society---which will not help those already infected anyway---our only hope remains in understanding this strange virus so we can fight it. But what exactly is a virus?