January 14th, 2011
01:30 PM ET

Wilson: Can we keep up our progress on AIDS?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/OPINION/01/14/wilson.aids.anniversary/tzleft_wilson_courtesy.jpg caption="Phill Wilson is the president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, a national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on black people." width=300 height=169]

Phill Wilson
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Watch "Hope Survives: 30 Years of AIDS," an AC360° special, at 9 p.m. ET Friday. Phill Wilson is the president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, a national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on black people. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) - I was infected with HIV in 1981, the year the disease was discovered.

Back then, most people died in six to 12 months from horrible diseases like Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin cancer normally found in older men of Semitic descent; pneunocystis carinii pneumonia, a fungal infection in the lungs; cryptococcal meningitis, which causes the lining of your brain to swell; or toxoplasmosis: You got that from cat feces, and it turned your brain to Swiss cheese.

There were no treatments, really. A "long-time survivor" was someone who lived 18 months.

I was 24 then. In April, I will celebrate my 54th birthday.

I almost didn't make it. In 1996, my doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles called my mother in Chicago to tell her that if she wanted to see me alive again, she should fly to Los Angeles immediately. They had given me less than 24 hours to live. I was in a coma in the ICU.

I eventually came out of that crisis, and my doctor prescribed something brand new: a three-drug regimen, commonly referred to as "the cocktail." I recovered from that crisis and went on to found the Black AIDS Institute, an organization I still lead.

What a difference three decades can make. We have gone from no drugs to a few very toxic drugs that didn't really work to more than 25 antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV. The new drugs are highly effective, and the side effects are much reduced.

Read more from Wilson on CNN.com's Opinion Page

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.

Related: Visit Greater Than AIDS for answers to frequently asked questions about HIV/AIDS, as well as information about local testing centers.

Filed under: 360° Radar • AIDS • Opinion • Phill Wilson
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Matt

    Mo'Nique says kids are going to have sex anyway, so quit teaching abstinence. AC says it's safer to have sex with someone you know has AIDS than a bunch of people who might not. Wilson says AIDS is spread because black people are not diagnosed early enough. Elton says we're all God's children so be nice to gays and people with AIDS.

    How about this... all of these people, plus the CDC, freely admit that gays, sexually active people, and drug users transmit HIV/AIDS. So quit having sex with gays, quit having sex with sexually active people (i.e. get married before you have sex), and quit doing drugs. Then you won't get AIDS.

    Or, like our panel so firmly stated, have sex, have sex with people you know have AIDS, don't let anyone tell you otherwise, and see where you're at in the next 30 years.

    I don't need to draw a conclusion. If you can't see the truth by now, you wouldn't believe me anyway.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  2. arnold mcculler

    Great show. I've had huge respect for Phil Wilson as long as I've been infected as well over 25 years now and never an opportunistic infection.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  3. Rick

    Thanks for the excellent program regarding the AIDS crisis. The show was very good at enlightening people regarding what it is like to live with AIDS. I have lived with AIDS for 23 years. It has been very difficult. I have almost died several times.
    Also, I have moved back to the small town where I grew up. The stigma associated with AIDS is horrendous here. I have sat in church and been called an abomination. I have had people tell me that people with AIDS deserve it. There are still a lot of people (especially in the black community who won't get tested or treated because of the stigma associated with AIDS.
    Thanks for talking about the stigma that many communities still place on AIDS victims.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  4. Jeanne

    I am an RN. I remember the first time I read about AIDS...it was a TIME magazine in 1980 and I was working a night shift in the ICU. They called it the "gay disease with no cure." I barely knew what 'gay' was...so I didn't follow it closely because I could not relate to it.

    Thirty two years later, and thousands of hours of care, I understand it well.

    We all need to understand this disease. It is not going to go away, but we will if we do not educate, remove the stigma, and help find medical management within infrastructures and financial resources to care for everyone, regardless.

    Human beings have sad feelings and reach out with compassion when they hear the word 'cancer'..we need to do the same with HIV/AIDS.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  5. Karen

    After watching your program on HIV/AIDS, I can certainly empathize with those who have this condition. I do not have HIV/AIDS, but I do have something that has just as much of a stigma. I have epilepsy. The World Health Organization estimates approximately 30.4 million people in the world have HIV/AIDS, while approximately 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy. Most people do not understand this disorder or how many types of seizures there are. I have had drug resistant epilepsy for almost 45 years. I wish more celebrities would try to support the research being done and raise awareness. The public needs to be educated.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  6. Laura

    reading thru multiple comments, they frequently go back to the issues of money the pharmacutical companies want to make. Since the dawn of time there have been diseases that have come and gone. If HIV cured/prevented the drugs will still be made along WITH the vaccines. Not everyone will get the vaccine. Sadly another disease will come along and the search will start again...

    January 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  7. Laura

    admittedly I have not finished reading, I will. I can say I have an adult son with HIV. and mental illness. The mental illness he admits probably led to the behaviors that led to becoming infected. Having worked in healthcare/ems for 16 yrs I have seen it often as he described it to me. So to treat and educate we must incorporate many factors. Not all hiv pts have mental illness but certainly all have fears and emotional upheaval. Education and compassion the utmost important. We have been asked "well how did he get that?" I respond with "well if the mode of transmission is acceptable to you are you going to be nicer to him and accept him or sit in judgement?" You can have privacy and an honest backbone. I have found it to be a roundabout way to question sexuality and out comes the stigmas. Should not have to hide. Hiding just lets ignorant attitudes fester and education be stiffled.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  8. liz

    Interestingly, the lie is that a lot of people have unsafe sex and are just in denial that they could get aids.

    Hating people who have aids separates us from them and so our denial is safe.

    Those of us who have cancer are wistful that aids patients
    have "cures" but stigma, cancer patients don't have stigma but they have few "cures" given the differences in the nature of the diseases.
    At the end, Elton John saying we are all children of god is really the only way to deal with all of the complexities.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  9. timothy battles

    Anderson///i am a 45 vyr white male who contracted HIV thru heterosexual sex last year...such as Magic Johnson did...I am blessed that they caught it within in 30 days of transmission...but please dont forget...just because we are HIV positive...we have to be just as careful as people that are not infected....we can be re infected with different strains of HIV....this is not a Gay disease....you should of asked Earvin Johnson to be on your show...instead of all the homosexuals

    January 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  10. otto

    The USA hawe HIV medicin just people can not buy it,it is so in expensive,big farmecuticals don't alaud it, shame on us,let people suffer ,name of busieness, money is God in America,same same on us!!

    January 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  11. MS

    Hi Anderson,

    Hope all is well. I do often come here and write to you. I am a big fan of yours !!! You often have a progam like "Planet in Peril" and I was wondering what was this years documentary going to be about. Hope it will be very educative and interesting to watch.

    Thanks and have a wonderful evening – MS.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm |