How to survive a plague
Beyond the curve: Dr. Peter Lurie's COVID-19 blog
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First, welcome to Beyond the Curve, a blog that will explore the scientific and human dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst this rapidly evolving crisis, we will share insights on topics ranging from antibody tests to mask-wearing to the safety of employees in slaughterhouses from a science-based, activist perspective.
With limited options for recreation, this weekend I, like so many others, sought solace in the movies, or at least movies streamed into the home. And I turned to a film I missed the first time around, David France’s bracing 2012 documentary about the AIDS epidemic, How to Survive a Plague (how can you resist a title like that at this juncture?). Using archival footage and contemporary interviews, France immerses us in the dire early days of the AIDS epidemic, when hope was scarce and effective drugs scarcer. It traces the arc of AIDS treatment activism, an arc that ultimately led to the lifesaving protease inhibitor drugs and the transformation of HIV infection from a death sentence to a largely manageable chronic condition.
I urge you to watch this inspiring film (I found it on Amazon Prime) and absorb its important messages about activism today. First, watch the activists who had no scientific training metamorphose from placard-carrying protesters questioning the ethics of placebo-controlled trials to data-bearing advocates insisting on rigor in trial design, the approach that ultimately delivered the effective therapies. Second, be inspired by the energy and anger of the protesters, as their disease went unmentioned by one president (Reagan) and underfunded by another (Bush I).
Anger at the anemic federal response is every bit as justified today, as the current plague was similarly first ignored, then played down, then incompetently addressed. Now, it seems, we’re on to the stage of blame-shifting and credit-claiming. The mode of transmission in the current pandemic prevents us from assembling in person, but modern activist tools like the email barrage and the Tweetstorm were born for this moment. We must organize online and through social media to protest the government’s languid response and its cost in lives. As this blog develops, we’ll give you multiple opportunities to do so.
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