Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 10:42 UK

Still no HIV cure, 25 years on

By Kari Browne
BBC News, New York

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"I can buy life, that's not fair" - Eric Sawyer, who was infected by HIV in the 1980s, reflects on his life

It was New Year's Eve, the last night of 1980, when Eric Sawyer was infected with HIV.

Within a couple of weeks he began feeling sick. His doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong.

It would take over three years before anyone would identify the mysterious and deadly illness that was affecting so many gay men throughout the US.

On 23rd April 1984, the US Health Secretary Margaret Heckler , serving under President Ronald Reagan, made the historic announcement of the discovery of a virus thought to cause Aids. The virus would eventually be known as HIV.

Hopeful predications

At her press conference Ms Heckler made the astonishing prediction that a vaccine to prevent Aids could be developed within two years.

We knew he was a ticking time bomb and we didn't know how much longer he had.
Eric Sawyer

Eric Sawyer was hopeful: "It was somewhat promising when Secretary Heckler announced that there was a discovery of the virus. "

Eric's partner Scott, who he was living with at the time, was showing serious symptoms of Aids.

"We knew he was a ticking time-bomb and we didn't know how much longer he had.

"I was symptomatic at the time so I was just really hopeful and praying that the optimism they had in finding a cure within six months or year would come true - I didn't want to lose my partner and I didn't want to die myself."

Losing friends

Facing certain death - Eric Sawyer wasn't even 30 years old.

Eric Sawyer
After losing 343 friends to HIV/AIDS Eric decided to stop counting

"Who wants to die at 30? We were hoping against all odds they would find a treatment so we wouldn't die."

But Scott did die.

Eric's other life partner Bill died too.

"I do have survivor's guilt. It compels my daily life.

"It's a tremendous blessing to have survived with symptoms of this illness now for 28 years. But almost everybody who was symptomatic when I became symptomatic is dead."

Younger generation

Eric has channelled his rage and sadness into activism. He has created several organisations advocating for those who are living with HIV/Aids.

He worries the younger generation does not understand the reality of HIV.

With the success of drug cocktails prolonging and indeed saving the lives of people living with full blown Aids, death isn't a given as it was in the early years of HIV.

"They have grown up in the age of HIV, they're aware of it but they're not afraid of it. They haven't seen hundreds of their friends die from it.

"They haven't seen the horror of disfigurement, or people with herpes infections literally eating their lips and noses and walking around like skeletons covered in really thin skin when they're in their 20s.

"There are all these misperceptions that HIV is just some other chronic manageable illness. But the drugs are horribly toxic, the side-effects horrendous."

"I can buy life"

Eric's medication costs total $40,000 (£27,000) a year.

Though his is mostly covered by insurance, he says many don't have the luxury of having their life saving drugs paid for. He's currently advocating for universal health care within the US.

"I'm alive today because I have access to the latest medical treatment, the latest technologies, the latest drugs - because I'm an upper middle-class person with health insurance and I can buy life. And that's not fair."



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