January 11th, 2011
11:34 AM ET

Producer’s Notebook: Hope survives, 30 years after first US AIDS diagnosis

Editor's note: Greater Than AIDS – a new national movement to respond to AIDS in America– is asking Americans to share their “Deciding Moments," personal experiences that changed how they think about the disease and inspired them to get involved. For many it is someone close to them who was infected. For some it was their own diagnosis. For others it was a realization that we all have a role to play. Tell us about your “Deciding Moment” by visiting: www.greaterthan.org/moment.

David Puente
AC360° Producer

(CNN) - A couple of months before the new year, I read that 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of the first AIDS diagnosis here in the US. Immediately, I thought this was a story we had to cover on AC360°. That day I pitched the story and this week I am happy to be working overtime to get our hour long report – called “Hope Survives: 30 Years of AIDS” – to air this Friday at 9pm ET on CNN.

Related on CNN's Marquee Blog: AC360 to air special on AIDS in America

Since I began to research this story, I was interested in communicating that the AIDS crisis in America is alive and well, even if we in the media and society as a whole don’t discuss it as much as we did decades ago. At the same time, as I met more and more people living with HIV or AIDS, I realized that this was also a story full of hope. It is a mixed bag because, although AIDS is no longer the killer it once was, the stigma associated with the disease still destroys individuals. Yet so many of the HIV positive men and women I met in the last few months proved to me the strength of the human spirit – they have claimed victory over HIV because it is no longer the main focus of their lives. Sure they take their medication, watch their health and protect themselves but at their core they are much more focused on achieving their goals and living out their dreams than they are on their HIV status. So many of them are heroic – activists, long-time survivors, young people determined to live long, fulfilling, happy lives. That’s also the face of HIV in America today.

Sir Elton John; Mo’Nique; Phil Wilson, the Director of the Black AIDS Institute; Dr. Anthony Fauci, who oversees HIV/AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health; and a fashion designer, with a very inspiring story, named Mondo Guerra make up our panel for this Friday night’s program. I am extremely eager to hear what they have to say. I know it will be informative and will help bring AIDS back to the public discourse. We need that since there are still about 56,000 new cases of HIV in the US each year and at least 20,000 people still die of AIDS in our country yearly.

I also can’t wait to read what ACT UP founder, and one of my personal heroes, Larry Kramer will write for the op-ed piece that he is working on for CNN.com. It will be posted in a few days.

Later: AIDS is a plague allowed to happen, Kramer says

Plus Sharon Stone, Barry Manilow, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Maya Angelou, Jeanne White-Ginder, Margaret Cho, Gloria Estefan and LA Laker Pau Gasol will share their “Deciding Moment” with us…watch some here, they tell us about a pivotal moment in their life associated with AIDS.

AIDS deciding moments: Margaret Cho

AIDS deciding moments: Jeanne White

AIDS deciding moments: Maya Angelou, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Working with Sir Elton John’s team at the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the professionals at the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black AIDS Institute, I have become better educated about HIV. I understand that we can protect ourselves from the virus as individuals and as a society not only with condoms, but also with love and acceptance of those living with HIV. We need to fully accept them in our intimate circles – at work, in our families and socially. I’ve talked to so many like Mondo Guerra who is HIV positive but is dating an HIV negative partner. I’ve learned that a condom is good protection against HIV but so is breaking the stigma that surrounds the disease. I hope this blog can contribute to the conversation that will continue on our broadcast Friday night.

Related: Hope survives, 30 years after first US AIDS diagnosis

Filed under: 360° Radar • AIDS • David Puente
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