The Plague in the Shadows

The Plague in the Shadows

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

HIV/AIDS changed the United States and the world. It has killed some 40 million people and continues to kill today. This week, reporters Kai Wright and Lizzy Ratner from the podcast Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows take us back to the early years of the HIV epidemic in New York City and show how the virus tore through some of our most vulnerable communities while the wider world looked away. 

Wright begins by looking at the initial media coverage of HIV, as well as the first health bulletins circulated by the medical community. Both focused on the spread of the virus within the gay men’s community, creating a feedback loop that resulted in other vulnerable groups being overlooked – including women, communities of color and children.

Then Ratner tells the story of Katrina Haslip, a prisoner at a maximum-security prison in upstate New York in the 1980s. Haslip and other incarcerated women started a support group to educate each other about HIV and AIDS. The group was called ACE – for AIDS Counseling and Education – and it advocated for women, minorities and prisoners who were being overlooked in the nation's response to the epidemic.

In the final segment, we learn how Haslip took her activism beyond prison walls after her release in 1990. She joined protests in Washington and met with leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. One of the main goals was to change the definition of AIDS, which at the time excluded many symptoms that appeared in HIV-positive women. This meant that women with AIDS often did not qualify for government benefits such as Medicaid and disability insurance. 

The podcast series Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows is a co-production of The History Channel and WNYC Studios.

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