The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, January 30
January 30th, 2013
Wyoming Senate Committee Considers Non-Discrimination Bill: Cheyenne, WY. Hard on the heels of Monday’s Senate committee hearing which approved a bill for a Domestic Partnership registry for the state’s same-sex couples, The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing today on SF0131, which would amend Wyoming’s anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The hearing begins first thing this morning at 8:00 a.m. in room 302 of the state capital building.
Events This Weekend: Winter Pride, Killington, VT; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Rainbow Reykjavik Winter Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland; Regenbogenball (Rainbow Ball), Vienna, Austria; Gay Whistler, Whistler, BC.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
NY Times Report AIDS Breakthrough: 1996. The AIDS epidemic had raged unchecked for at least fifteen years with very little hope in sight. For countless numbers of people around the world, an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. When the drug azidothymidine (AZT, marketed as Retrovir), first approved in 1987, was a nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor (or “nuke”), which blocked a particular enzyme associated with HIV. It was virtually the only means for fighting the disease for almost a decade, but it’s effectiveness was sorely limited. In 1995, another “nuke”, Lamivudine (3TC, or Epivir) became available, giving doctors a second option for when patients became unresponsive to AZT. But when taken together, AZT and 3TC seemed to offer an additional “punch” for many people than they did when taken separately.
Then in 1996, an entirely new type of drug, Indinavir (marketed as Crixivan) entered the market. Known as a protease inhibitor, it inhibits another HIV enzyme known as the protease enzyme from functioning. The New York Times wrote a very cautious report on the breakthrough. At a meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, a study was presented which found that when combined with AZT and 3TC, Indinavir reduced the amount of HIV swimming around in patients’ blood by about 99 percent, to levels which were undetectable by standard laboratory tests in 92% of patients. Many among the more than 2,100 scientists at the meeting expressed optimism about the findings, in part because it was one of the few bits of good news about AIDS in a long time,” The Times reported. “But, recalling how they had been wrong about several other initially favorable AIDS findings, leading scientists urged caution.”
As tentative as the initial reports were, the results soon proved unmistakeable. When 3TC joined AZT in 1995 as a viable treatment, there was a noticeable plateau in the number of deaths due to AIDS. But in 1996 when the three-drug cocktail became available, the number of deaths due to AIDS would see its first drop since the epidemic began. And it wasn’t a slight drop either — it was a 20% improvement from the year before. People at death’s door began coming back from the abyss. For some who had prepared to die, finding that they were living again presented an entirely new set of challenges. The emotional whipsaw, dubbed “the Lazarus Syndrome” made restarting a life (including an education, careers, or simply a place to live) that had been systematically dismantled through disease, disability and stigma just one more challenge to surmount while still dealing with the anxiety of wondering if the other shoe was yet to drop.
The three-drug cocktail, which became known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), wasn’t a cure, but the breakthrough was undeniable. Further improvements in HAART resulted in more effective combinations and dosages which made adherence much simpler. HAART would eventually transform AIDS from a terminal disease to a chronic disease, albeit still a very serious one. More recent research shows that, thanks to HAART, people with AIDS can now expect a near-normal lifespan. And yet, HAART’s side effects can take a brutal toll on the body, and its cost — ranging from $10,000 to $15,00 a year for a single patient — makes life-prolonging medications a severe financial strain for anyone without insurance or governmental assistance. All of which makes finding a cure still as important as ever.
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