07.22.2010 10:46 PM

The face of AIDS

“In November, 1990, LIFE magazine published a photograph of a young man, David Kirby — his body wasted by AIDS, his gaze locked on something beyond this world — surrounded by anguished family members as he took his last breaths. The haunting image of Kirby’s passing (above), taken by a journalism grad student named Therese Frare, became the one photograph most identified with the HIV/AIDS epidemic that, by then, had seen as many as 12 million people infected.”

My Dad was an immunologist before he became a bio-ethicist. When I was a kid, I remember him coming home to tell us about a frightening virus that didn’t really have a name yet. Some of the doctors at the hospital, he said, were perplexed by the profound toll it was taking on three “H” communities – Haitians, homosexuals and heroin users. I remember him saying it was the most formidable virus any of them had ever seen. “If it does what we think it is going to do,” he said, “it will kill millions of people.”

It did. Every year, now, it kills about two million people. Many more live with it.

When that photo appeared, I – like everyone else – thought it was extraordinary. I was appalled by Benetton’s use of it to sell sweaters – but, as the above link to Life makes clear, David Kirby’s parents felt it was the right thing to do. They’d know better than me.

Anyway. I don’t post this photo to mark some sad anniversary or anything else like that. I just put it here to remind myself that it is a terrible, terrible disease, and that it is still with us.


  1. Jan says:

    According to a G&M article today – we are back to 1980 levels. And we have a federal government who doesn’t believe in harm reduction.

    • Zachary Scott Smith says:

      Who says that the Conservatives do not believe in harm reduction as they did take that knife away for Bob Rae and Ignatieff is feeling so much better that he is drinking his beer from a can.

      • Derek Pearce says:

        I believe in the other thread you said “insults instead of debate, how Liberal.” Well, thanks for this, glad to see you mean what you say. Not.

        The moral judgment against drugs– for god’s sake, we all KNOW drugs are bad!!– must be divorced from the need to reduce harm.

        • Zachary Scott Smith says:

          I would point out to you that, when you are trying to take the high road, you should first remove all the mud on your boots from the very long time you have spent on the low road, and as to what I wrote, it is too bad you did not get the humour of it.

          As for drugs, the best way to reduce harm is to reduce the source of the drugs and not enable their use and if you are not sure as to what I am saying.

          You can go to any institution that helps people with any type of addiction and look at what steps they use to help people with their addiction and I will assure you that the continued use of the drug or behaviour is not one of them.

          So unless, you understand this very simple point and it is that the only real way to reduce harm, is to remove the source and the cause of the harm and that is in this case the drugs and that to act otherwise you are not `removing the harm`

  2. Lipman says:

    Could this important post also have something to do with the Harper government’s apathetic approach to HIV/AIDS?

    Dr. Julio Montaner, a true Canadian hero, has accused the Harper government of practicing “draconian, ideologically-motivated public health policy-making.” This Harper Government’s disgraceful failure to do more on HIV/AIDS should be a bigger issue to voters. A compassionate government would do more.

    • Zachary Scott Smith says:

      Just when you believe that the Liberals have hit the low point in personal attacks, they do seem to be able to find a new low.

      • James Smith says:

        Geez Doctor Smith, you needs firm up your epidermis. Exactly how is a ligit crit of policy a personal attack again?

        • Zachary Scott Smith says:

          Since you and your little minded friends are into nick names how about Jimmy Crack Corn, or Jimmy Bob Boy, or Perhaps I should call you Son of JAR JAR Binks aka namesake.

          And as before, pointing out a truth or a fact is not a personal attack although the supporters of the Liberals fear that line of reasoning as it exposes their lies, their denies, their fear and their smears to the average Canadian.

          Which brings us back to 23% again down from the high of 36.7% in April 2009 and with these numbers just how “ligit crit of policy a personal attack again” do you think (hard concept) Canadians regard the comments of you, your party and you leader (With Ignatieff be the leader, now that is truly a concept that is hard to understand) make.

  3. Sandra says:

    My husband’s nephew died of AIDS at the young age of 31. The photo – that’s what it’s like.

    He was such a terrific kid.

    I think more people need to see this kind of photo to get what it’s like.

  4. Zachary Scott Smith says:

    I came across this piece the other day, “a changing epidemic: Canada‚Äôs AIDS rate on the rise” in the G&M and it shows that with all the progress that has been made treating AIDS there is still very much to be done.

    “While the number of HIV-AIDS cases in Canada have risen back to 1982 levels, the biggest shift is in who and where are most effected”

    “The number of annual cases of HIV-AIDS in Canada has risen back to 1982 levels, which is when the epidemic began ravaging the gay community.”


  5. Dan Gardner says:

    The 18th International Aids Conference ends today. The “Vienna Declaration” — signed by leaders in public health from around the world — is an official statement of that conference.

    It includes this statement: “The criminalization of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelming health and social consequences.” It calls on governments to “”undertake a transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies.” And adds: “A full policy reorientation is needed.”

    See http://www.viennadeclaration.com

  6. allegra fortissima says:

    As we hopefully all know, AIDS is a disease that can effect everyone, not only gay men and/or illicit drug users! You don’t get it from holding hands, right?

    One of my best friends here in Canada has AIDS since 1993. She is an AIDS activist, does a lot of charity work, provides AIDS education at local schools and is happily married. She leads a “normal” life like you and I, but is on constant, heavy medication and is aware every minute of the fact that one day she will die.

    I will miss her laughter, openness, tolerance, and love for life. Some people might avoid her due to the fact that she has AIDS – I and many others are proud to be her friend.

    One of her favourite quotes is: “Yes, No and in between”.

  7. allan says:

    Good reminder of an issue worthy of our attention, but I was surprised by the reference to haitians as on of the three “h’s” didn’t know they, as a community, were impacted during the early spread of the disease – was this just in canada or globally?

    • Warren says:

      They were disproprtionately affected. The disease went from Africa to Haiti to North America (NYC and LA) circa 1969. As I say, my Dad and others didn’t know what they were dealing with back them. But I remember how scared he was by it.

  8. thor says:

    Please read and revise. By the way, Warren, You’ve just repeated a long and hurtful trope about “diseased” Haitians without noting some of the important details. At least as I remember them.


    Also, your theory is not without its detractors:
    And, at the bottom of this article, (posted below) the following quote:
    “”The findings are significant,” added Robert Garry, a microbiologist at Tulane University. They indicate “an important lineage of subtype B HIV was present in Haiti, which eventually spread elsewhere,” he added.
    But he is not fully convinced that a Haitian origin is the only explanation for subtype-B strains in the Americas, however.It is quite likely that other B lineages appeared in the Americas prior to and in all likelihood independently of the Haitian lineage, he said.
    “It is possible that HIV made many incursions into the United States. Most of these likely never spread or spread cryptically for a while and burned out,” he added. “The one discussed in this paper appears to have been the bomb that actually went off.”


    • Namesake says:

      But nothing WK said implied that Haitians _caused_ HIV, or that it did, or would, ran rampant thru their population as a whole: just that c. 1980 it had been identified they were disproportionately affected relative to the cases being ID’d in North America, and that they may have been an important unwitting link in the chain that brought it from Africa to N.A.

      Both the articles you linked confirm that, as well, as does overview: http://www.retrovirology.com/content/3/1/72

      But he also omitted the 4th H mentioned in the latter article – hemophiliacs: another group disproportionately affected, and, as was subequently demonstated, through no fault of their own, but from tainted blood transfusions: something that was mentioned in passing in your first article, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31755066/
      as one of the reasons it probably didn’t get worse in Haiti itself, since they were quick to address the problem in their blood banks (unlike us, sadly: read Andre Picard’s book on that).

  9. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Still a courageous and powerful image all these years later.

  10. Zachary Scott Smith says:

    Hi, Jar Jar Binks or Delak.

    I am not sure which is the better fit; the ob?nox?ious carton character from Star Wars or the system-destroying heartless machine from Doctor Who and it is hard to choose which one to use as they both are very close to your personality, although I am leaning to JAR JAR BINKS.

    So with the ZSS ZSS Fly crack again, I assume that you do not like the nickname or names; well that is what occurs when you punch above your weight class, you just plain get your butt kicked.

    You seem to be slurring your words with

    “well, from then on I treated you like the pesky little con-bot troll you are.”

    If you missed my reply to Jimmy Crack Corn, have it is

    That is so unoriginal that it boards on asinine and shows just how limited you are in your repertoire of insults so please raise the bar as it is difficult to write down to this level.

    You Liberals with the exception of a few, just do not have the right stuff anymore to deal out quality slams and smears that you were able to do before and that your your basket of insults are just recycled and just plain old and tired just like your party..

    By a chance did you get around to watching that video, you know the one where the Liberal party being put thought their paces, sit, roll over, stay, lay, walk and my favourite roll over and play dead, and I must say that after 5 years the Liberals are the best trained party of dogs that I have seen.

    By the way, I did not expect you back so soon after getting soaked again after your last howling and barking session – but if you want a good soaking I am game to put you through your paces.

    Here is the towel go dry your head off again, and when you are dry, drop me a line.

    Just as an FYI, what you as a Liberal consider as an acceptable reply, in a civilized society is just considered plain rude and ignorant.

  11. Zachary Scott Smith says:

    Hey Jar Jar Binks, AKA namesake.

    Why no reply at the bottom of your last attempt at a drive by smear, are you doing a little cut and run.

    Now that is not to say, that it would not make sense because from what I have seen over the past five years, the old Liberal Red colour has being running and has been turned into a rather pasty orange not NDP orange but close.

    • James Curran says:

      Man you’re annoying to my eyes. Grow up. This is serious post about a more-than-serious desease that affects far too many millions of people. So your lack of anything serious to say about this serious post is just f#cking annoying.

      How’s that for uncivil?

  12. Zachary Scott Smith says:

    Namesake (for now)

    “Well I certainly didn?t like it, being on the wrong end of the recession & jobless recovery, but come on: the country was facing a Greece-like crisis of the international bond market downgrading us to junk status & our facing bankruptcy, thanks to the Cons? profligate spending, so the Libs made some tough choices & balanced the budget, & eventually restored the social spending & built up a surplus. And then the Cons took over, made a bunch of bad choices, and are deliberately spending us into bankruptcy again so they can reduce the size of gov?t. I don?t see any contradiction on my part. And of course I personally had nothing to do with any of those decisions.”

    Truth is and this can all be vetted on the Government websites, the Conservatives of that day exclusive of the costs required to service the national debt that was left to them by the Trudeau and Turner – actually ran balance budgets and that their revenue was equal to the expenses.

    The Conservatives were forced to borrow billions annual to service the $32.0 billion annual deficit and the $300. billion plus national debt and the last year where there was a $44.0 billion dollar deficit was all the cost of borrowing and not a structural deficit.

    Your point that it was the Liberals who restored funding is just BS, as it was under the Harper Conservatives over the past five years that we have seen the levels restored the previous cuts made by the Liberals.

    Now if you are not sure, you can go to the Government of Canada web sites and confirm the facts.

    The other point that I would make is that Harper increased the transfer payments in excessive of $13.00 Billion annually, paid down $39.0 Billion of the debt prior to the world wide recession and reduced the tax burden on Canadians by $10.0 to $14.0 billion annually for the GST – just do the math and you will see where the surplus went.

    As to the current debt problem, well just about everyone in Canada and the rest of the world seems to understand that this was a world wide problem and not made in Canada and further to that point – the Liberals voted for that budget and therefore the deficit, so stop trying to suck and blow.

    Now to today and where the country is at, well today’s numbers show that through the first two months of the current fiscal year, April and May, Canada’s deficit sits at $4.4-billion, compared with $7.5-billion in the same period of 2009 when the economy was still in recession and that $1.8-billion of the deficit so far this fiscal year is attributable to the government’s stimulus measures.

    Now I am not sure if you can do the math, but that is a reduction of $3.1 reduction in the deficit over the same period year over year for that period and that once you back out the one time stimulus spending – the deficit over the two month period is $2.6 billion or $1.3 Billion monthly.

    About ? called the Economic Action Plan ? which includes tax cuts and infrastructure spending.


    Concerning your comment that there are not any contradiction on my part, soory to say but your whole post is a contradiction.

  13. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Chill. This is really starting to get old…not to mention tediously depressing.

    • Zachary Scott Smith says:


      You must know by now that I will not pushed around and all that is required is for the namesake and the others to keep it civil and just lose the the personal attacks.

  14. Zachary Scott Smith says:

    Just about what one would expect from a Liberal after four of them wrote the following and may want to be a little more thought full in your concepts of what is serious disease, you might have considered commenting on your fellow Liberals comments and there lack of respect.

    Guess it is that old Liberal value of do as I say not as I do.

    Geez Doctor Smith, you needs firm up your epidermis. Exactly how is a ligit crit of policy a personal attack again?

    I believe in the other thread you said ?insults instead of debate, how Liberal.? Well, thanks for this, glad to see you mean what you say. Not.

    ZSS-ZSS? fly.

    well, from then on I treated you like the pesky little con-bot troll you are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.