Pitt Men’s Study Co-investigator Anthony Silvestre, PhD, was recently recognized with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force’s (PATF) 2012 Founders’ Award. Says PATF: “The Founders’ Award is presented to an individual who carries on the vision of the founders of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, embodies the agency mission and demonstrates their commitment through long-term volunteer service to PATF and its clients.”
Below is an account that Tony wrote for the occasion describing the PATF’s genesis and its relationship to the Pitt Men’s Study. Congrats, Tony!
A Reflection of the Past
News of the first cases of a strange viral disease among gay men was passed over with little notice by nearly everyone inPittsburgh. Virtually no one imagined that more than 50 million humans would be infected and that millions would die. A few scientists at the University of Pittsburgh knew differently. In 1982, they watched the mystery virus destroy the first Pittsburgher it infected.
A few activists in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community were also troubled and began raising the alarm. Few heeded it. With little fanfare, the scientists and community activists joined hands to submit a grant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to begin looking for this virus inPittsburgh. In 1983, the NIH awarded the grant to create the Pitt Men’s Study and the activists became members of its Community Advisory Board (CAB).
Within weeks, Study staff began receiving calls from people affected by the disease. A sister called wanting to know if her brother with this strange illness posed any health threat to her newborn child. A mother called wanting to know how to care for her son who was being released from a hospital. A niece wanted assistance after being fired her boss found out that her uncle died of this strange new disease.
When the calls became too numerous for staff to handle, the CAB contacted local governmental and private organizations to help. None did. Some did not return calls, one official said the problem wasn’t serious enough, and others just did not have the resources.
The CAB decided to form a new organization to care for infected people and to educate the public. They put out a call for a public meeting and more than 40 people showed up. These 40 learned that no one knew the cause of this disease or exactly how it was transmitted. They learned that infected people, their families and caregivers were shunned and discriminated against. They learned that there were no funds, nor the expectation of any funds, from foundations or the government. Nevertheless, the group elected a Board of Directors and formed committees to begin the work.
Without the expectation of public approval or guarantees of personal safety, 40 people stood up and said “Enough!” They began an organization – the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force – which continues to stand up and work to lessen suffering, increase knowledge, and affirm human dignity.