HIV Unmuted: Review


HIV Unmuted
Produced by the International AIDS Society

Reviewed by John Francis Leonard

Host Femi Oke. Photo courtesy IAS

In the first episode of this informative and extraordinary podcast, host Femi Oke and her guests frame the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS within the forty-year history of the virus both in the U.S. and globally. With one eye on the incredible progress that has been made, the holy grail—an effective vaccine—is still proving elusive. She points out the frustration that both the public and the scientific and advocate communities have felt when they have seen such rapid development of a vaccine against COVID and wonders why we haven’t seen the same progress in a vaccine for HIV.

In the first episode we hear from none other than Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who was probably the first physician to see a pattern in the mysterious infections among gay men in Los Angeles and published the first article in a medical journal about the startling and almost unknown opportunistic infections in his young, gay male patients. He and several other of her guests decided to dedicate themselves to the study and treatment of AIDS before it even had a name.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become (for better and sometimes to his detriment) a leading figure in the fight against COVID, brings his perspective as another scientist on the front lines at the inception of the AIDS crisis. He is perhaps her most fascinating guest who, in recognizing AIDS as a global problem, is quick to remind us that globally, AIDS reaches far beyond the marginalized communities that it decimated stateside. As always, his humanity and compassion as well as his passion for what he does transcend the politics that thwarted the fight against AIDS and seem to be doing the same now in the midst of another pandemic.

Across the episodes that are streaming (on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other platforms), the IAS brings us the leading lights of science, medicine, and activism and reminds us that—even in the middle of another pandemic, a caustic and bellicose political scene, and a planet being devastated by a climate crisis—there is still much work to be done. Great advances in treatment and prevention have been made, but they do little good for those communities with no access to treatment and information. This series of talks reminds us that we must do better and that we must never give up the fight until this disease is eradicated. It’s an eye-opening and inspiring clarion call to action from some of our best warriors in the battle.

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John Francis Leonard writes the Bright Lights, Small City column for A&U.