Guy Vandenberg was 23-years-old when he started nursing aids patients. He's just, this year, turned 50. "In the early days of the epidemic, I had friends who died of HIV, many," he told ABC7 News. Vandenberg says in those years, there wasn't that much that could be done. "The first decade was helping people get ready for death," he said. But in the second decade of the disease, around 1996, a combination of drugs began to show amazing results. "Treatment was complicated but there was hope," Vandenberg said.
AIDS drugs reduced transmission by 96 percent, circumcision was shown to cut risk of transmission in half, and in 2007, Timothy Brown became the first man to be cured of the disease after a bone marrow transplant. There were so many breakthroughs, the head of the HIV/AIDS division at SF General is going to be part of a turning point announcement at this weekend's AIDS conference in Washington D.C. For the first time, we are going to be talking about the beginning of the end of the AIDS epidemic," Dr. Diane Havlir said.
"I subscribe to that. I do believe that," Vandenberg says. Vandenberg says we have the tools but what is lacking, is the awareness. He and his African American partner have been working in Africa. "Where there was a lot of stigma, he would literally be on the market square with a translator and a sound system and say, 'This is my name. I'm from the United States and I have HIV,' and the market place would stop."
In Africa, Vandenberg says the battle is over awareness. In the United States, it's a fight against complacency. Only 7 percent of those questioned in a recent survey said HIV/AIDS was a serious health issue. "I think if you had asked them in 1988, you might've gotten a different number," Vandenberg says. He says 25 years ago, people were talking about HIV and AIDs. It was much more of a public health concern.
The goal of the AIDS conference that begins in Washington D.C. on Sunday is in part, to raise the level of awareness.