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When AIDS was the Plague

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Bruce Chaplin--a British writer, archeologist, and world traveler, (also friend of Salman Rushdie, Werner Herzog, etc) wrote of the AID's pandemic in the 1980's. His letters below were written while he was in the last stages of HIV. Certain themes of that plague seem to mirror today's Covid-19 crisis. He died of AID's, January 18,1989, at the age of 49, a few months after he wrote the letters below:

Letter to Carey Welch, The Radcliffe Medical Foundation. 25 July 1988

Dear Carey

We live in a time of new viruses: a time of Pandora's Box. Climatic Change is the motor of evolution, and the sweeping changes in climate that have affected many parts of Africa offer ideal conditions for a virus that may have been stable over many thousands of years to burst its bounds, and set off to colonize the world.

The most pressing medical problems since tuberculosis is HIV (Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus), vulgarly known as Aids. The word should never be used by the medical profession, since it plays into the hands of the gutter press, and causes panic and despair: in France, not even M. le Pen could do much with 'le S.I.D.A.' There is, in fact, no cause for panic. H.I.V. is not a late twentieth century Gotterdammerung: it is another African virus.

My friend, David Warrell, is Professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Oxford University. He is one of the finest clinical physicians in this country. He has spent many years in the Far East, working in the field to advance the study of cerebral malaria. He is a world authority on snake-bite, but he has recently returned to Oxford to lead a team of researchers into HIV.

As you probably know the virus constantly mutates and there seems little hope at present of preparing a vaccine. Excellent results have been achieved by the laboratories in describing the virus; but in the future we shall have to look elsewhere. The stable form of the primordial HIV must exist in Africa, and we intend to find it. The pessimists will say it is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. The problem may be simpler: that of the archaeologist who knows where to dig.

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Conceived on west coast, born on east coast, returned to northwest spawning grounds. Never far from water.


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