TIME health

Until 2014, This Man Was TIME’s Only Medical Person of the Year

1996: Dr. David Ho TIME

For 2014, the Ebola Fighters have been selected. In 1996, the Man of the Year was AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho

“Some ages are defined by their epidemics,” wrote Philip Elmer-De Witt in TIME’s 1996 Man of the Year issue. The 14th century was the time of the bubonic plague. The 16th brought smallpox to the new world. In the early 20th century, influenza rampaged. “Today,” he wrote back then, “we live in the shadow of AIDS–the terrifyingly modern epidemic that travels by jet and zeros in on the body’s own disease-fighting immune system.”

The idea that a virus or bacterium can change the world — and that the men and women who fight them can too — is no less true now than it was then. On Wednesday, TIME announced that the Ebola Fighters have been named the Person of the Year for 2014.

As TIME’s Editor Nancy Gibbs notes, this year’s Ebola outbreak has brought forward heroes while raising the question of how the world can turn their personal sacrifices into new ways to fight the virus, to respond to epidemics and to care for those who need it most.

And though AIDS and Ebola remain two of the most frightening diseases on earth, looking back at 1996’s Man of the Year cover story can bring at least a little hope that those questions stand a chance of being answered. (There were theoretical medical researchers included in the 1960 Men of the Year issue, honoring U.S. scientists, but their work as doctors was not the focus of the story; Dr. Ho is the only Man of the Year prior to 2014 selected specifically for his work with a disease.) At the time, AIDS was a death sentence — but Ho, by successfully lowering the virus count in patients who received a combination of new and powerful drugs when they’d only just been infected, helped change the way the medical community looked at HIV and AIDS.

Nearly two decades later, though an AIDS vaccine is still not a reality, progress has been substantial. AIDS researchers have found their answers to many of the questions Ebola fighters face today. Treatment protocols are well established (if not applied equally all over the world). Survival is no longer miraculous. It’s possible to prevent transmission. And, just this winter, TIME took a look at the state of AIDS in San Francisco and found that, against what would have once seemed impossible odds, the city has the elimination of the disease in its sights.

Dr. Ho continues to direct the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center; in 2010, TIME profiled him again and found that he was still pioneering new ways of treating the disease. That tireless work by Ho and his colleagues is one of the reasons AIDS is no longer a defining disease of our time — and if he demonstrates that devotion and dedication can make a difference, that’s just one more reason to honor the Ebola fighters.

Read the full story about Dr. David Ho, here in the TIME Vault: Man of the Year, Dr. David Ho

TIME health

How the Mystery of AIDS Created Dangerous Myths

SIDA
Microscope view of HIV, 1985 Michel Setboun—Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

Dec. 10, 1981: The New England Journal of Medicine publishes a series of articles about a new disease that appears to target gay men

The early days of the AIDS epidemic were dangerous not just because a killer virus was sweeping across America, but because the mysterious syndrome spawned its own damaging myths.

On this day, Dec. 10, in 1981, the New England Journal of Medicine published three landmark articles and an editorial attempting to make sense of the deadly immune deficiency, which had been identified a scant six months earlier. By December, according to the BBC, the condition had been found in 180 Americans and killed 75, nearly all of them gay men.

Doctor Michael Gottlieb was among the first to recognize the chilling threat the crisis posed. When the epidemic began, 33 years ago, Gottlieb himself was 33 and an assistant professor of immunology at the UCLA Medical Center, eagerly searching for interesting “teaching cases,” according to a profile in the American Journal of Public Health.

One case that caught his attention was a harbinger of the devastation to come: a young gay man with an array of serious health problems more common to organ transplant patients than otherwise robust young people. Gottlieb and his fellow immunologists found that the man had virtually none of the “helper” cells that fight infection. After coming across several similar cases, the doctor suspected that some new, unknown virus was responsible. He told the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine that it might be “a bigger story than Legionnaire’s disease.”

To warn the medical community, Gottlieb put out his preliminary findings in the weekly report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the time the journal article came out in December, other doctors from around the country had reported similar cases and were hunting for a cause.

One early theory pegged the spread of the disease — which the CDC named AIDS — to a club drug called “poppers,” although the correlation quickly broke down. New evidence that the virus was transmitted through bodily fluids emerged when heterosexual drug users began reporting symptoms, apparently after sharing dirty needles.

By then, however, hysteria over the agonizing illness had led to a proliferation of myths about its transmission. Those myths lingered long after they were disproved, adding another layer of stigma for the syndrome’s victims.

For example, in 1988 — by which time AIDS was well enough understood to make such claims preposterous — a sensationalistic book, Crisis: Heterosexual Behavior in the Age of AIDS, stirred new panic with old assertions about how the syndrome was spread. According to TIME’s review of the book, the authors suggested that contracting AIDS was as easy as using the toilet after someone with the virus, being bitten by the same mosquito or even getting to second base. This last was meant as a literal warning to baseball players, not a metaphor for heavy petting: a player could catch the virus by sliding onto the base “if, by chance, an infected player has bled onto it,” the book warned.

When confused — and terrified — callers jammed AIDS hotlines, one epidemiologist fumed, “This is the AIDS equivalent of shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”

Read more about the early search for the HIV virus, here in TIME’s archives: Hunting for the Hidden Killers

TIME portfolio

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 28 – Dec. 5.

From ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s acquittal to protests over Eric Garner’s chokehold death verdict and the launch of NASA’s unmanned exploration spacecraft Orion to the White House’s Christmas decorations, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Music

Watch Bruce Springsteen Rock Out With U2 for World AIDS Day

Bono was unable to perform

Bruce Springsteen and Coldplay’s Chris Martin performed in the heart of New York City alongside U2 Monday in recognition of World AIDS Day. U2 frontman Bono, who is recovering from a bicycle accident in Central Park last month, was unable to perform.

The event, held in New York City’s Times Square, also featured appearances by Kanye West, Carrie Underwood and Bill Clinton. The former president’s foundation has raised millions to fight AIDS.

“Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” were among the famous U2 songs performed.

TIME Infectious Disease

NYC HIV Diagnoses Reach Historic Low

On World AIDS Day, the city announced a 40% decline in known cases since 2003

New York City’s HIV diagnoses have hit a historic low, a new report revealed on Monday, World AIDS Day.

The New York City Health Department report shows that 2,832 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2013 (the most recent data available), which represents an all-time low and a more than 40% decline in known cases since 2003. New AIDS cases also dropped to 1,784 in 2013 from 5,422 in 2003.

Still, more than three quarters of the city’s new diagnoses were among blacks and Hispanics, and men who have sex with men also represent a disproportionate number of new cases. “But, 2,800 individuals newly infected with HIV are still too many people. We must strive harder to reach communities of color, which bear the highest burden of HIV,” NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement.

New York City, one of the most populous urban areas in the world, was one of the hardest hit at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. During a World AIDS Day event, the Health Department recognized local organizations and individuals for their outstanding contributions in the city’s fight against the disease.

Other cities, like San Francisco, have made even greater strides in cutting their new diagnoses. As TIME recently reported, San Francisco is trying to get down to zero new diagnoses. The California city, which was also an epicenter for the AIDS epidemic, had only 359 new HIV diagnoses in 2013. Not only that, but 94% of HIV-positive people in San Francisco are aware of their status.

MORE: The End of AIDS

TIME health

World AIDS Day: The History of a Virus in 7 Stories

Track the history of the disease through the pages of TIME

Dec. 1 has been World AIDS Day since 1988 — but though the awareness and activism around the diseases has changed drastically during the years between then and now.

To see just how much our understanding and attitudes have evolved, take a look back at TIME’s coverage of AIDS through these seven essential stories:

Hunting for the Hidden Killers by Walter Isaacson, Jul. 4, 1983

This 1983 cover story wasn’t the first time AIDS appeared in the pages of TIME — in 1982, an article had explained the new “plague” to readers — but the tale of the “disease detectives” at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health highlights just how little was known about the disease:

Based on what is known so far, two theories have emerged. One is that AIDS is caused by a specific agent, most probably a virus. “The infectious-agent hypothesis is much stronger than it was months ago,” says Curran, reflecting the prevailing opinion at CDC. NIH Researcher Fauci, who staunchly believes that the culprit is a virus, has been collecting helper T-cells from AIDS victims to look for bits of viruses within their genetic codes. So far, however, this and other complex methods of detecting viruses have yielded nothing conclusive. Suspicion focuses on two viruses: one is a member of the herpes family called CMV; the other, called human T-cell leukemia virus, or HTLV, is linked to leukemia and lymphoma.

The other theory is that the immune system of AIDS victims is simply overpowered by the assault of a variety of infections. Both drug users and active homosexuals are continually bombarded by a gallery of illnesses. Repeated exposure to the herpes virus, or to sperm entering the blood after anal intercourse, can lead to elevated levels of suppressor Tcells. The immune system eventually is so badly altered that, as one researcher puts it, “the whole thing explodes.” Other experts combine the two theories, speculating that a new virus may indeed be involved, but that it only takes hold when a combination of factors affects the potential victim, such as an imbalanced immune system or certain genetic characteristics.

AIDS: A Growing Threat by Claudia Wallis, Aug. 12, 1985

As AIDS spread, so did awareness and knowledge — as well as paranoia:

Despite their physical ordeal, many AIDS sufferers say that the worst aspect of their condition is the sense of isolation and personal rejection. “It’s like wearing the scarlet letter,” says a 35-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer who was forced out of a job at a top Texas law firm. “When people do find out,” he says, “there is a shading, a variation in how they treat me. There is less familiarity. A lot less.” Sometimes the changes are far from subtle, according to Mark Senak, a lawyer at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a volunteer organization that helps AIDS patients in New York. “They’ll come out of the hospital, and their roommate has thrown them out–I mean literally,” he says. “Their clothes will be on the street.” Rejection of this sort is not unique to gay men. Senak cites the case of a heterosexual woman with AIDS whose husband and family refused to take her back home from the hospital.

Invincible AIDS by Christine Gorman, Aug. 3, 1992

As the ’90s began, the hope that modern science could quickly conquer AIDS began to fade:

Wars are usually launched with the promise of a quick victory, with trumpets primed never to sound retreat. And the campaign against AIDS was no exception. Soon after researchers announced in the mid-1980s that they had discovered the virus that causes AIDS, U.S. health officials confidently crowed that a vaccine would be ready in two years. The most frightening scourge of the late 20th century would succumb to a swift counterattack of human ingenuity and high technology.

But no one was making any victory speeches last week in Amsterdam, where more than 11,000 scientists and other experts gathered for the Eighth International AIDS Conference. The mood was somber, reflecting a decade of frustration, failure and mounting tragedy. After billions of dollars of scattershot albeit intensive research and halfhearted prevention efforts, humanity may not be any closer to conquering AIDS than when the quest began.

As if by Magic by Steve Wulf, Feb. 12, 1996

For more than a decade, AIDS had been a death sentence — but suddenly survival had a celebrity face. The NBA’s Magic Johnson was back in action:

If there was a bittersweet feeling to Johnson’s return last week, it came from the realization that his exile from the game had been largely unnecessary. When Magic announced to the world on Nov. 7, 1991, that he had contracted the AIDS virus, it seemed to many that he was pronouncing his own death sentence. Michael Cooper, a teammate at the time, left the press conference crying. Johnson had to quit basketball then, supposedly for the sake of his own health and definitely for the peace of mind of his peers. He made cameo appearances, first at the 1992 N.B.A. All-Star Game and then as a member of the USA’s Dream Team in the Barcelona Olympics, but when he tried to make a comeback in the fall of ’92, the fears of some outspoken N.B.A. players forced him to call it off.

But so much has happened in four years, in both AIDS research and AIDS education.

Hope With an Asterisk by Richard Lacayo, Dec. 30, 1996

In 1996, TIME named Dr. David Ho, an AIDS researcher, the Man of the Year — and, in a series of accompanying stories, explained why. That year, a cocktail of three drugs had changed what it meant to be an HIV patient:

In the history of the epidemic, there has never been a moment as intricate as this one. AIDS once again, as in the first years after it appeared, presents a predicament so new that no one is sure how to talk about it. When we say protease inhibitors work, what do we mean? Whom do they work for, how well and for how long? The only thing we know with certainty is that the conventions of language and sentiment that fit an earlier moment of AIDS, meaning all the years when death was at the end of every struggle, are unsuited to this one, when nothing is a foregone conclusion. Something powerful is happening. The new prospects for effective treatment insist that despair is an outmoded psychological reflex. Yet among people who live with AIDS, optimism is a suspicious character. Too many bright hopes of the past didn’t pan out. So this is a moment in which, for anyone with feeling and judgment, feeling and judgment are unsettled.

Death Stalks a Continent by Johanna McGeary, Feb. 12, 2001

In the U.S., the possibility was on the horizon: AIDS could be perhaps become a manageable chronic illness, or at least a rare disease rather than a plague. But that hopeful attitude was not a worldwide phenomenon, as a lengthy and moving cover story about African patients made clear:

AIDS in Africa bears little resemblance to the American epidemic, limited to specific high-risk groups and brought under control through intensive education, vigorous political action and expensive drug therapy. Here the disease has bred a Darwinian perversion. Society’s fittest, not its frailest, are the ones who die–adults spirited away, leaving the old and the children behind. You cannot define risk groups: everyone who is sexually active is at risk. Babies too, unwittingly infected by mothers. Barely a single family remains untouched. Most do not know how or when they caught the virus, many never know they have it, many who do know don’t tell anyone as they lie dying. Africa can provide no treatment for those with AIDS.

The End of AIDS by Alice Park, Dec. 1, 2014

The current issue of TIME presents pretty much the opposite picture from the one seen a mere three decades earlier. Whereas the syndrome’s first mentions were full of confusion and fear, today’s AIDS story — the tale of a program in San Francisco that aims to get everyone who’s positive onto medication — is about control and opportunity:

More than three decades later, the disease has killed over 650,000 Americans, and the HIV/AIDS landscape, thankfully, has changed. At its peak, there were 50,000 deaths from the virus per year; now the number is 15,000. Lately, the rate of new HIV infections has stabilized at about 50,000 annually, and more than 1 million people in the U.S. are now living with an HIV diagnosis.

Those trends are making it possible for public-health experts to shift the conversation toward reducing, and even eliminating, HIV infections. More people are living with the virus–successfully controlling it with medication–and far fewer have the immune-system crashes, cancers and infections that can come with full-blown AIDS.

And the face of HIV today is a world away from the gaunt faces and wasted spirits brought to life in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and by Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. The reality is that it’s now possible to live, for nearly an average lifetime, without any obvious physical evidence of an HIV infection.

Read more: The Photo That Changed the Face of AIDS

TIME Education

How AIDS Changed the History of Sex Education

APR 1 1971, APR 16 1971, APR 20 1971; High school students in the Denver Public School system receiv
A Denver Public School sex education class in 1971 Barry Staver—Denver Post Archive / Getty Images

The conversation about what to teach and when shifted in the 1980s

It was September of 1986 when U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop announced that the country had to change course on sex education. By then, however, the change had already begun.

Whether and how sex should be taught in public schools wasn’t exactly a new topic of discussion but, even as many programs began to move away from the straightforward facts of biology in order to get into the real experience of young sexuality, some details remained taboo. Was it O.K. to acknowledge homosexuality? Was it O.K. to talk about sexual acts unrelated to reproduction? And how young was too young?

Those questions could have been debated indefinitely; the metaphor of a pendulum is often used to describe changing attitudes toward sexual mores and education. Until something came along that made those questions seem less important than ever: AIDS. In the 1980s, even before Koop spoke out, fear of the then-mysterious disease gave parents, educators, politicians and students a reason to put aside their sqeamishness — and thus changed the history of sex ed forever. Which was where Koop came in, as TIME reported in a 1986 cover story by John Leo:

“There is now no doubt,” said Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in his grim report on AIDS last month, “that we need sex education in schools and that it must include information on heterosexual and homosexual relationships.” With characteristic bluntness, Koop made it clear that he was talking about graphic instruction starting “at the lowest grade possible,” which he later identified as Grade 3. Because of the “deadly health hazard,” he said later, “we have to be as explicit as necessary to get the message across. You can’t talk of the dangers of snake poisoning and not mention snakes.”

A poll accompanying the story found that the longstanding figure that 80% of Americans were in favor of public-school sex ed was out of date; it had jumped to 86%. Harvey Fineberg of Harvard’s School of Public health told the magazine that sex ed had become “a matter of life and death” and, even though not everyone agreed on what exactly should be included in such a class, particularly the question of whether to focus on abstinence, it was getting hard to argue that the topic should be avoided completely. (The “death” part was the only thing that was actually new; sex ed has always been a matter of life.) A full 95% of respondents to the TIME survey answered that they thought that 12-year-olds should be taught about the dangers of AIDS — nearly 20 percentage points more than answered yes to the question of whether kids that age should be taught “how men and women have sexual intercourse.” As a result, formerly off-limits subjects like anal sex were introduced to classrooms around the country.

By the time the magazine revisited the topic in 1993, a whopping 47 states mandated some form of sex ed for students — versus a mere three in 1980 — and every single state supported education about AIDS.

During the ’90s, sex ed programs grew, the teen birth rate sank and teens began to have less sex overall. As of 2002, TIME reported that “a quarter of all new HIV cases today occur in those ages 21 and younger” — and, as of 2010, that figure hadn’t changed much, with the CDC reporting that 26% of new infections were in people between the ages of 13 and 24. But that doesn’t mean that nothing has changed. Instead of sex ed ending HIV infection among teenagers, treatment for AIDS became a reality and the syndrome stopped being the conversation-ender it once was, freeing parents and educators to go back to war over what should be taught when. Today, fewer than half as many states as did 20 years ago require that public-school students get sex ed in the classroom.

The pendulum, it appears, continues to swing.

Read more: Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed in the Internet Age

TIME ebola

The Psychology Behind Our Collective Ebola Freak-Out

Airlines and the CDC Oppose Ebola Flight Bans
A protester stands outside the White House asking President Barack Obama to ban flights in effort to stop Ebola on Oct. 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery—dpa/Corbis

The almost-zero probability of acquiring Ebola in the U.S. often doesn’t register at a time of mass fear. It’s human nature

In Hazlehurst, Miss., parents pulled their children out of middle school last week after learning that the principal had recently visited southern Africa.

At Syracuse University, a Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist who had planned to speak about public health crises was banned from campus after working in Liberia.

An office building in Brecksville, Ohio, closed where almost 1,000 people work over fears that an employee had been exposed to Ebola.

A high school in Oregon canceled a visit from nine students from Africa — even though none of them hailed from countries containing the deadly disease.

All over the U.S., fear of contracting Ebola has prompted a collective, nationwide freak-out. Schools have emptied; businesses have temporarily shuttered; Americans who have merely traveled to Africa are being blackballed.

As the federal government works to contain the deadly disease’s spread under a newly appointed “Ebola czar,” and as others remain quarantined, the actual number of confirmed cases in the U.S. can still be counted on one hand: three. And they’ve all centered on the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, who died Oct. 8 in a Dallas hospital after traveling to Liberia; two nurses who treated him are the only other CDC-confirmed cases in the U.S.

The almost-zero probability of acquiring something like Ebola, given the virus’s very real and terrifying symptoms, often doesn’t register at a time of mass paranoia. Rationality disappears; irrational inclinations take over. It’s human nature, and we’ve been acting this way basically since we found out there were mysterious things out there that could kill us.

“There are documented cases of people misunderstanding and fearing infectious diseases going back through history,” says Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine. “Stigmatization is an old game.”

While there was widespread stigma surrounding diseases like the Black Death in Europe in the 1300s (which killed tens of millions) and more recently tuberculosis in the U.S. (patients’ family members often couldn’t get life-insurance policies, for example), our current overreaction seems more akin to collective responses in the last half of the 20th century to two other diseases: polio and HIV/AIDS.

Concern over polio in the 1950s led to widespread bans on children swimming in lakes and pools after it was discovered that they could catch the virus in the water. Thirty years later, the scare over HIV and AIDS led to many refusing to even get near those believed to have the disease. (Think of the hostile reaction from fellow players over Magic Johnson deciding to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game.)

Like the first cases of polio and HIV/AIDS, Ebola is something novel in the U.S. It is uncommon, unknown, its foreign origins alone often leading to fearful reactions. The fatality rate for those who do contract it is incredibly high, and the often gruesome symptoms — including bleeding from the eyes and possible bleeding from the ears, nose and rectum — provoke incredibly strong and often instinctual responses in attempts to avoid it or contain it.

“It hits all the risk-perception hot buttons,” says University of Oregon psychology professor Paul Slovic.

Humans essentially respond to risk in two ways: either through gut feeling or longer gestating, more reflective decisionmaking based on information and analysis. Before the era of Big Data, or data at all, we had to use our gut. Does that look like it’s going to kill us? Then stay away. Is that person ill? Well, probably best to avoid them.

“We didn’t have science and analysis to guide us,” Slovic says. “We just went with our gut feelings, and we survived.”

But even though we know today that things like the flu will likely kill tens of thousands of people this year, or that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. every year, we’re more likely to spend time worrying about the infinitesimal chances that we’re going to contract a disease that has only affected a handful of people, thanks in part to its frightening outcomes.

“When the consequences are perceived as dreadful, probability goes out the window,” Slovic says. “Our feelings aren’t moderated by the fact that it’s unlikely.”

Slovic compares it to the threat from terrorism, something that is also unlikely to kill us yet its consequences lead to massive amounts of government resources and calls for continued vigilance from the American people.

“Statistics are human beings with the tears dried off,” he says. “We often tend to react much less to the big picture.”

And that overreaction is often counterproductive. Gene Beresin, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor, says that fear is causing unnecessary reactions, oftentimes by parents and school officials, and a social rejection of those who in no way could have caught Ebola.

“It’s totally ridiculous to close these schools,” Beresin says. “It’s very difficult to catch. People need to step back, calm down and look at the actual facts, because we do have the capacity to use our rationality to prevent hysterical reactions.”

Read next: Nigeria Is Ebola-Free: Here’s What They Did Right

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Bill Gates has some notes for Thomas Piketty: Tackle income inequality by taxing consumption, not capital.

By Bill Gates in Gates Notes

2. Thousands have died as Central African Republic slides toward civil war, but media coverage is scant. Is there an empathy gap?

By Jared Malsin in the Columbia Journalism Review

3. Europe’s apprentice model isn’t a perfect fit for U.S. manufacturing, but it could change the way we train a new generation of blue-collar workers.

By Tamar Jacoby in the New America Foundation Weekly Wonk

4. Ebola may be gruesome but it’s not the biggest threat to Africa.

By Fraser Nelson in the Guardian

5. In dry California, regulators are using an innovative pricing scheme to push conservation.

By Sarah Gardner at Marketplace

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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