AIDS physician offers update on epidemic

Although much progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States, a pioneering AIDS physician recently told the Rotary Club of Los Altos that much work remains to be done to alleviate the disease in developing countries.

Since the discovery of the disease in 1981, the infection rate in the U.S. has declined significantly.

The Rotary Club of Los Altos and its Rotary AIDS Project played a role in spreading awareness and addressing the epidemic. In 1989, Los Altos Rotarians produced and distributed “The Los Altos Story,” a Peabody Award-winning video that chronicled the anguish of Rotarian Dude Angius, whose son died of AIDS.

In commemoration of World AIDS Day Dec. 1, Dr. Arthur Ammann, founder of Global Strategies and clinical professor of pediatrics at UC San Francisco, addressed the Rotary Club at its Nov. 29 meeting. Ammann discovered two of the three ways HIV is transmitted: blood transfusions and mother-to-infant transmission during birth and breast feeding.

Ammann’s book “Lethal Decisions: The Unnecessary Deaths of Women and Children from HIV/AIDS” documents how treatments for HIV/AIDS were discovered, then withheld for decades from patients in poor countries.

In Africa, the human scale of infection continues to grow.

Ammann described the inroads made in the 15 years after AIDS was first diagnosed in 1981, noting the discoveries of the causes of HIV transmission and effective antiretroviral drugs.

“In 1996, for the first time, the number of Americans dying from AIDS declined, dropping 23 percent, attributed primarily to HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy),” Ammann said.

However, in poor countries, the World Health Organization recommended withholding treatment until infected individuals progressed to advanced stages of infection. The consequence was that, since 1996, approximately 20 million people in poor countries became infected with HIV and had no access to proven treatment, he added.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of “The Los Altos Story,” the Los Altos Rotary AIDS Project plans to publish a compendium of personal memories, “Stories Behind ‘The Los Altos Story’: Rotary Volunteers Confront HIV/AIDS,” authored by Rotarian Marlene Cowan. For more information, visit

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