A Deeper Response to AIDS

In early October the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed for the last time in its entirety in Washington, D.C. -- the last time because the quilt has now grown too large to be exhibited in one place. With more than 10,800 panels, each honoring the memory of an individual who has died of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, the quilt covers 14 acres. But still, the panels represent only 18 percent of the AIDS deaths in the United States, and just 5 percent of the estimated deaths worldwide.

The quilt was begun by one man who lost a friend and wanted others to understand his grief and frustration. Awkwardly spray-painting his friend Marvin's name on a piece of cloth the size of his grave, Cleve Jones began a monument to the tragedy of AIDS. By personalizing the anguish, the organizers of the NAMES Project hope to "confront individuals and governments with the urgency and enormity of the AIDS pandemic and the need for an immediate and compassionate response."

The need for such a response continues to be critical. The National Commission on AIDS, charged by Congress to draft an initial report by next August, released its findings eight months early, stating in a December 6 letter to President Bush that the testimony on the nature of the crisis "was so compelling we felt it is vital to write to you now."

The report faulted Congress, private business, and in particular the Bush administration, stating, "There is no national plan for helping an already faltering health-care system deal with the impact of the HIV epidemic." HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. Noting that the proportion of persons diagnosed with AIDS among intravenous drug users is growing rapidly, the report also soundly criticized the president's drug policy, which places greater emphasis on law enforcement than treatment.

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