So many people and organizations played a role in the city’s fight against AIDS (actually, ‘still play’ … present tense).

Share story

ONE OF THE hardest things about any newspaper story is leaving things out. Every person I spoke with for this week’s story about the AIDS epidemic in Seattle suggested several more people who were involved in worthy organizations, or who had equally important stories to tell about the community’s response to a deadly scourge.

The story doesn’t mention Seattle Shanti, spun out of a San Francisco organization, and focused on loving support and counseling for people with HIV. It barely touches on the People of Color Against AIDS Network, created to provide services and education for African Americans, Native Americans and other groups at especially high risk of HIV. Nor could I reach out to all of the countless case workers, nurses, hospice caregivers and physicians who provided hands-on care to AIDS patients. A list of gay-friendly physicians compiled in the early days by the Seattle Gay Clinic ran to almost 100 names.

I also gave short shrift to Seattle’s role as an AIDS research powerhouse throughout the epidemic, and continuing today. Even before the disease had a description or a name, Dr. Ann Collier at Harborview Medical Center teamed up with Dr. Hunter Handsfield at the public health department on a study of men with swollen lymph nodes, a harbinger of HIV infection. Harborview was among the first hospitals to open a clinic specifically for AIDS patients.

When the epidemic struck, Dr. King Holmes at the University of Washington was arguably the country’s leading expert in sexually transmitted diseases. He trained a generation of HIV researchers and helped make the UW and Harborview leaders in caring for AIDS patients and working to understand the virus.

The current state of HIV deserves a story of its own. I was shocked that at a time when drugs to treat the virus and prevent infection and transmission are readily available, 445 people statewide were newly diagnosed with the virus in 2017, and 85 died from AIDS and its complications. Bailey-Boushay House, originally built as a place where people with AIDS could live out their last days with dignity, now runs an outpatient program providing meals, recreation and medical care for 400 low-income people with HIV, many of them homeless, drug-addicted or mentally ill.

As the organization’s website bluntly puts it: “HIV is now very much a ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ disease.”