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Thursday, February 24, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

AIDS crisis forgotten, not gone

Nicole Brodeur / Times staff columnist

The HBO film of the AIDS drama "Angels in America" won a slew of awards last year. So that was nice.

Friends who were diagnosed with HIV — geez, was that in 1989? — are still with us, sustained by drug combinations cheerily referred to as "The Cocktail." So that's good. And while TV beams images of the faraway suffering of women and children — entire generations wiped out by AIDS — we don't have that here. So that's no cause for alarm.

That smug sense of safety over what was once referred to as the AIDS "crisis" ended last week, when health officials in New York City and Canada reported a virulent and highly drug-resistant strain of AIDS that spooked them but good.

While the Canadian cases did not lead to the spread of a supervirus, three types of anti-HIV drugs didn't make a dent in the New York case, causing officials to dub it a "multidrug-resistant," or MDR, strain.

There is much we don't know about the cases. But they serve as an alarm bell that should end our national nap over a disease that we have yet to beat and that could impact the world's political and economic stability. Not to mention break our hearts.

"We don't want to go out and scare people," said J. Cory Curtis, of the Seattle-based Lifelong AIDS Alliance. "But then, we do, because there is still no cure for AIDS."

In a twisted way, the timing of all this couldn't be better. This week, Lifelong is sponsoring two events to remind lawmakers and the general public that the crisis is still just that.

Yesterday, about 250 HIV/AIDS patients, activists and caregivers from all over the state descended on Olympia for "AIDS Awareness & Action Day," to remind lawmakers of the importance of funding HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and support.

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And at 7 p.m. today, the national Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA) will host a forum at the LGBT Community Center in Seattle to mobilize people to take part in two national lobbying events later this year.

The forum will feature Charles King of Housing Works in New York City and Paul Feldman of the National Association of People with AIDS. The hope is to recapture the grass-roots activism that marked the emotional, early days of AIDS — now seen as a chronic health problem.

"It feels like we are starting over again, back to where we were 20 years ago," said Curtis, at Lifelong. "While it's true that treatments have allowed people to live not just 20 months, but 20 years, people are still sick and dying."

In King County, 9,642 people are living with HIV or AIDS. Snohomish County has 794; and Pierce County 1,321. One of the highest infection-rate groups is those under 25.

"These are the people you assume have grown up with the messages," said Sally Clarke, Lifelong's director of community resources. "But the message is sterile to them at this point." So while the numbers have not been compelling, Clarke said, the problem is still alive — not just in New York and Canada, but everywhere.

"But by no means is it over."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Threshold of revelation!

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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