Plenary Speaker-And the Band Played On: Then and Now


And the Band Played On: Then and Now

Friday, November 7, 2014
8:45 am – 10:15 am

William W. Darrow, Ph.D
Professor, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work
Florida International University

In 1987, investigative journalist Randy Shilts published his second book, “And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic.”  This 630-page book intended to show that “the epidemic spread widely because the federal government put budget ahead of the nation’s welfare; health authorities placed political expediency before the public health; and scientists were more often more concerned with international prestige than saving lives” (original book jacket).  On page xxii of the Prologue Shilts writes, “The bitter truth was that AIDS did not just happen to America—it was allowed to happen by an array of institutions, all of which failed to perform their appropriate tasks to safeguard the public health.”

The purpose of this plenary presentation is to review the controversial book published by Randy Shilts 27 years ago in light of some of the events that have followed.  First, I shall succinctly summarize the content of the book and immediate reactions to its publication.  Second, I shall very briefly describe major historical developments since 1987.  Third, I shall provide a critical assessment of current attempts to navigate a treacherous path to an AIDS-free generation by relying almost exclusively on short-term biotechnical breakthroughs.

Bill Darrow was a member of the CDC task force that was charged with looking into the cause of a mysterious and deadly outbreak of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in summer 1981.  In March 1982, he was sent to Los Angeles to help investigate an apparent cluster of cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma and opportunistic infections (KSOI).  Nine of 13 KSOI patients diagnosed in southern California were linked by sexual contact with one another or a flight attendant from Outside-of-California (“Patient 0”).  This finding strongly suggested that AIDS was caused a sexually transmitted pathogen.  Shortly thereafter, laboratory scientists in Paris, France, and Bethesda, Maryland, identified a previously unknown lentivirus as the cause of AIDS.  Subsequently, Dr. Darrow served as Chief of the Behavioral and Prevention Research Branch of the STD/HIV Division at CDC until his retirement from civil service in May 1994. As a faculty member in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, he teaches and mentors doctoral students, serves his college and community, and continues to conduct research on the social and behavioral aspects of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.  From 1999 to 2008, he served as Principal Investigator for an innovative Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) 2010 project designed to eliminate disparities in HIV disease in Broward County, Florida.  In 2010, new rates of HIV infection in Hispanic populations in Broward County were equal to those in the predominantly white non-Hispanic population and were half as high in non-Hispanic Black populations as they were when the REACH 2010 project began.




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