November 1985: MAP combats the AIDS crisis

MAP1985“1985 was the year of AIDS,” wrote Neil D. Rosenberg, medical reporter for the Milwaukee Journal. “It dominated the media, perhaps as no other single topic did all year.”

“It was front page national news when someone, possibly infected with the AIDS virus, spat at police; when a prisoner with the AIDS virus tried to squirt blood on his guards here in Wisconsin; and when a grade school child with AIDS tried to go to school in Indiana.  My 11 year old son asked me at dinner if he would get AIDS.”

“America, if it wasn’t hysterical, was getting close.”

America was right to be hysterical.  More new AIDS cases were reported in 1985 — and more people died of AIDS — than any year since the disease was discovered.

New infections increased a shocking 89 percent over the previous year.  The number of heterosexual AIDS victims spiked significantly for the first time, doubling 1984 rates. Sadly, the number of children with AIDS increased 175 percent — with most coming from families where one or both parents had AIDS.   Blood centers did not begin testing blood donations until early 1985, leaving transfusion recipients uncertain about their status.  The average patient prognosis was 15 months or less.

AIDSProjectAnd despite these shocking numbers, 1985 drew to a close without any significant government response to the crisis.

As the AIDS epidemic accelerated, trust and transparency between federal agencies, public health officials, medical experts and the gay community continued to disintegrate in most major cities.

In December 1984, the BESTD Clinic recognized a critical need for action and developed its own rapid response, the Milwaukee AIDS Project (MAP) committee.  With sixty volunteers and a single project director, MAP was funded with over $28,000 in grants from various sources, including the National Conference of Mayors, Archdiocese of Milwaukee, City of Milwaukee and Cream City Foundation.

MAP quickly established goals of educating the community about HIV/AIDS, helping those with HIV/AIDS and their families, and preventing the spread of the disease.  To this day, MAP is remembered for treating underserved patients with loyalty, dignity and respect at a time when many healthcare providers avoided or ignored them.

PrintAs the year drew to a close, it became apparent that the AIDS crisis needed a broader, stronger, louder response.  The vision of key community leaders would soon lead to the foundation of today’s AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin in December 1985.

The Wisconsin GLBT History Project is a self-funded, community-driven project devoted to documenting the evolving face of local gay and lesbian life. We are honored to be affiliated with this important and irreplaceable historical initiative.