Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Hope Survives: 30 Years of AIDS
Aired January 14, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Good evening, thank you for joining us tonight. Sir Elton John joins me for this special report, "Hope Survives, 30 Years of AIDS." We'll talk over the next hour about where we are in the battle against HIV and AIDS in this country.
Monique will join us as well, along with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Maya Angelou, Margaret Cho, Dr. Anthony Fauci, many, many others. This June will mark three decades since the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States.
And before we talk about where we are now, we wanted to look back at where we have been with a little help from Sir Elton John.
ELTON JOHN, SINGER/SONGWRITER: I can't lie no more of your darkness. All my pictures seem to fade to black and white.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just want to be like everybody else.
MAGIC JOHNSON, FORMER NBA BASKETBALL PLAYER: I will have to retire from the Lakers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, harder than ever, we must act up!
Fight back! Fight AIDS!
JOHN: Don't let the sun go down on me although I search myself it's always someone else I see. I am just now a fragment of your life you want to be free.
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Today we are releasing our national HIV/AIDS strategy.
JOHN: I'm losing everything. It's like the sun going down on me.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Only 30 years of HIV/AIDS in this country. It's easy to forget how dire the outlook once was for those with AIDS. HIV has a much different diagnosis today. Like many gay men of his generation, Sir Elton John watched a lot of his friends die in the early years of the epidemic.
In the early 90s he created the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and it's now one of the world's leading advocacy and support organizations. Sir Elton John joins me now. Thank you for being with us.
I've heard you say that you feel you didn't do enough early on when AIDS first started to make headlines in the United States back in the early '80s.
JOHN: I will be more specific. I did nothing, absolutely nothing. When AIDS first started in the early 80s, I lost a lot of friends to AIDS. It was the start of a big problem for me, drugs, alcohol. I was frightened. I was scared. I turned my back.
I should have been out there with Larry Cramer. I am on record as saying this, I did nothing. I am so ashamed of the inability that I had to actually put my foot into the water, dip my foot into the water.
COOPER: Were you afraid you might get sick?
JOHN: Possibly. I mean, when you are on drugs, on alcohol, you take chances and risks you normally wouldn't do if you were not. I was fortunate not to contract HIV. And when I did get sober, I realized what an absolute self-obsessed, selfish person I was. And I had to make amends to my fellow gay people that I lost and other people that were becoming increasingly infected. Not just gay people.
Let's face it was known at the gay disease when the first started out. I lost so many friends. They're on a plaque on my wall at my house. I have a chapel in my house with names, plaques, there must be 80 names I lost in ten years.
COOPER: You lost 80 friends?
JOHN: Yes. And I think because of who I was and I had the ability to say something. I didn't. I am ashamed of that. That's why I am trying to make amends now by trying to do as much as possible.
I think I definitely should have been out there with the people, yes, made a record, "That's what friends are for" that raised a lot of money. Yes I did the Elizabeth Taylor thing. But I wasn't Elizabeth Taylor, I didn't speak out. For Elizabeth Taylor at the time, being a woman to speak out against AIDS is something special. I should have been there, I wasn't. I regret it.
COOPER: Ryan White had a huge impact on how many Americans saw people living with AIDS. He also had a big impact on you. You became very close to him. You became close to his mother. What was it about him that kind of made you focus your attention?
JOHN: Well it took a child, i.e. Ryan White, to change the face and the attention of the American government at that time that had done nothing for AIDS, the Bush administration, the senior Bush administration, and Reagan administration before it, had completely ignored AIDS.
And when this child got AIDS, suddenly everyone was interested. I remember Elizabeth Glaser, I had lunch with her, she formed the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. She went to Washington and had to beg for help. Finally they got help. This was for children. There weren't even enthusiastic about helping children with AIDS.
So when Ryan White emerged and became a kind of hero, a folk hero forever and ever, and I became friends with him because I was so astonished and terrified of the way he was being treated and his family were being treated, that I did get off my fat backside and became, befriended the family, befriended Ryan, and became friends with him for quite some time until, unfortunately he died.
I was there for the last week of his life in Indianapolis with Howie Long and Judith White and the wonderful Ryan White family who had ability after all they went through, the Christian ability to forgive the people who had been so horrendously awful to them.
COOPER: I want to play for our viewers a little bit for those who didn't remember Ryan or maybe for the generation growing up not knowing who he was. He and his mom, they were fighting for his right to attend school. He really became an activist in his own right. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN WHITE: I am just one of the kids. And because of the kids at Hamilton high school, listened to the fact, educated their parents and themselves, and believed in me. I think it really helped children with AIDS.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you feel in your heart?
WHITE: Well, I think it is great. I think it is super that all of this is going on.
If you dwell on the fact that you are going to die then you are not, you probably will die, because, you know, they say a positive attitude can help you with anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And he did pass away, I think, in 1990. You were actually there that final, those final weeks right?
JOHN: Yes, I was. I actually did do something good for the last week of his life. By being in the hospital, answering the phones, becoming Judy's secretary basically. I am still close to Judy White, Andrea, his sister, and this year was the 20th anniversary of his death. We did something to commemorate that in Indianapolis.
Anderson, it took this child to die with dignity. He never complained. He never blamed anyone. Let's face it. He got this disease from a blood transfusion. He was a hemophiliac. H never complained, never blamed anyone. He didn't hate anyone.
It took this child to galvanize people in this country to do something about AIDS for everyone. Once a child got it, then, oh, well, it must be important. I don't say that derogatory. I just say the gay people who had been before were completely forgot any bout. It took Ryan White to come through with his beautiful, Christian attitude of forgiveness and courage and dignity to actually further this cause.
And if it hadn't have been for him god knows where we would have been right now.
COOPER: A lot more with Sir Elton John after the break. Also ahead, Monique, she played the abusive mom in "Precious," AIDS has touched down in her family's life.
And later, Mondo Guerra, a fashion designer revealed he was HIV positive on "Project Runway" last fall after keeping it secret for 10 years. We'll also tell you how the new developments in treating HIV are helping people.
A national campaign called greater than AIDS is also asking Americans to share their deciding moments, personal experiences that changed how they think about AIDS. We asked Sharon stone and Kareem Abdul Jabbar to share their deciding moments with us. Here is Jeanie White Ginder, Ryan White's mom.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANNE WHITE-GINDER, RYAN WHITE'S MOTHER: I used to say, Ryan, how do you do it? How are you not upset at everybody because of how they're treating you? He would say "Mom, they're just trying to protect their own kids like you are trying to protect me."
He used to always tell me to keep my chin up. He said, mom, just keep your chin up. I find myself lowering my head. He would say, mom, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Keep that chin up.
So I would like to tell everybody living with AIDS now to keep their chin up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARON STONE, ACTOR: I was working in Vegas with Rock Hudson. And I played his lover in a movie. And he was sick, and he was very incredibly kind to me. And suddenly as the movie ended, I came to understand that Rock had AIDS and that he would die, and that I needed to get tested for this thing, this unknown thing called AIDS.
I had kissed Rock, and in those days we didn't know how you got AIDS. You could -- could you get AIDS from kissing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It was a pivotal moment in actress Sharon Stone's understanding of AIDS. Rock Hudson died in October 1985 just three months after announcing he had it. He kept the diagnosis secret for more than a year. The stigma was that intense.
And a lot of folks will tell you the stigma remains just as intense today. AIDS seems to be falling off the public's radar. The sense of urgency and anger that led to medical breakthroughs is kind of evaporating.
In 1995, 44 percent named HIV-AIDS the nation's most urgent health problem. 2009, just 6 percent did. And yet 56,000 Americans are newly infected with HIV every year, 56,000 of our fellow citizens.
Sir Elton John joins me again, and also the actress and activist Monique. Thank you for being with us.
MONIQUE, ACTOR: Hello, Anderson. Thank you for having me. Hey, Elton.
JOHN: Hi, Monique. Great to see you.
COOPER: Monique, you have had family members who you have lost to AIDS?
MONIQUE: Yes, a family member, a friend who passed away from the disease. And the stigma is still there. We still do look at that disease as a plague. We still do want to push people away and push people back and isolate people with the disease.
So me seeing my family member, me seeing my friend pass from the disease, they died in shame and guilt and embarrassment. And that is not something that I would wish for anyone.
COOPER: Elton, when it comes to fighting HIV you believe that racism and homophobia still play a big part in this?
JOHN: Oh, absolutely. Our foundation really tries to champion the people that are marginalized, i.e., homosexuals, intravenous drug users, incarcerated people, and African-American people. We still find incredible prejudice against AIDS and in all walks of life against these people. Not just with AIDS, but these are marginalized people, thought of some times as second-class citizens, which in this day and age is unforgivable, unforgivable.
COOPER: I saw a thing in the paper, there is a North Carolina state representative, Larry Branham, who said his state should eliminate funding to treat adults with HIV because it is caused by people living with perverted lifestyles. It is amazing that we still see that among people who are in state houses in government.
JOHN: It's -- it's mind-boggling to think these people are in a position of power, their sheer hatred. And Anderson, it is not just within the AIDS, HIV scenario. It is an epidemic sweeping through this country, the rhetoric that comes from people's mouths, whether it is religious intolerance, racial intolerance, or homophobia. I have been coming here for 40 years, and I love this country deeply. But I am so shocked at the state of which we have become, which this country has become at the moment.
COOPER: Monique having the experience of having family members who've have contracted AIDS and then passed away, does it change the way -- is that what got you motivated? Is that what changed the way you saw this?
MONIQUE: Well, actually what changed it for me, I did a benefit show in the early '90s in Chicago for HIV and AIDS. When you look out in audience you said, wow, their faces look like my face. And I could be one of those people sitting in that position. And if I were, what would I want people to do? Would I want someone to be supportive? Would I want someone to think, she is still a human being, let's treat her as such?
The very first show I did in Chicago really made me say we got to do something. We got to stop being so insensitive. And we have got to stop segregating this disease saying it is this group, that group. It is such a human disease. And it is happening not just in America, it is happening all over the world.
COOPER: In the United States, Elton it is remarkable when you look at CDC reports, 34 percent of new infections are people under age 30 years old, really a generation which has grown up hearing about HIV, knowing, you know, you assume something of how it is transmitted, how they can prevent it, and yet there is this whole generation out there which is -- doesn't seem to have been -- be practicing the lessons that have been learned in the 80s and 90s?
JOHN: That is absolutely correct. But also, on an educational level you find that a lot of the schools still teach abstinence programs which are absolutely no good whatsoever to young children and to young teenagers growing up.
We find this is a cyclical occurrence. Every ten years or so, we find we have to re-educate the young. It's because I think of the progress that has been made by the anti-retroviral drugs, people think if I get this disease, I will live anyway. They have no idea of the toxic consequences of the drugs, how their body will handle them, each individual is different.
Also, they're like a human time bomb. A lot of people don't know they have the disease so they're infecting other people. It is very alarming, especially when you think of -- we have come a long way.
COOPER: Monique, I saw a study recently said 27 percent of people think that HIV can be spread by sharing a glass of drinking water with someone, 14 percent think by being in the same swimming pool with somebody. You know, you think we have come a long way, but when you hear a statistic like that, the disease cannot be transmitted like that. And it's, kind of sad people think still, that adds to that stigma you were talking about.
MONIQUE: It goes back to what Elton was saying in reference to the education. When I was in high school, when I was in middle school, I had a sex education class. And they told us about the different diseases and what could happen how you protect yourself.
Well, the moment we removed it, well, now the kids really don't know. There are so many people that it is just not informed about this disease so that's why you have the 27 percent feeling like we can't get in the same swimming pool. Oh, watch out, if they sneeze, you can't sit next to them.
If we put it back into the educational system and start with the kids and begin to educate that younger generation I really think we will see some improvements because, as when I was in school, and I saw what herpes was, and gonorrhea, and all the diseases, it made me say let me be careful. You were frightened almost when you saw those things. Now to take it out and say we are going to teach abstinence, well, we know that really doesn't work because our kids are having sex.
COOPER: We will have more with Sir Elton John and Monique in a moment. Also still to come, how powerful new medications have transformed the fight against HIV and AIDS. It's by no means a death sentence any longer. For many it's become a chronic condition. We'll talk to people living with HIV.
Plus the impact on the African-American community -- statistics are alarming. Nearly half of all infections every year are among African-Americans. We'll talk with Elton, Monique, and Phill Wilson. We would look to hear your stories how AIDS and HIV have touched your lives. To share your videos go to CNN.iReport.com.
As we go to break, former L.A. Lakers star Kareem Abdul Jabbar in a deciding moment that changed his perspective on AIDS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREEN ABDUL JABBAR, FORMER NBA BASKETBALL PLAYER: I was very fortunate to be a friend of Arthur Ashe. And in knowing him, it was one thing that really impressed me about him so much after he caught the AIDS virus. He never, ever complained about his bad fortune. He never, ever said, why me?
He was very brave about it and did all he could do to educate people as to what was going on and encourage them to do what they could do to fight this problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARVELYN BROWN, AIDS ACTIVIST: After being told I was HIV positive, I was confused. How could he have HIV? He was my prince charming. He was nigh knight in shining armor. The two just didn't go together. But I am not angry towards him. I am not bitter towards him, because I had a responsibility that night. I had a choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: She was 19 when she contracted HIV after having unprotected sex with her boyfriend. Today she is an AIDS activist who speaks about importance of testing and treatment. Her story is part of Greater than AIDS, a national campaign to raise awareness of a public health crisis raging after three decades and hitting African- Americans.
I want to show you some stunning numbers. While African- Americans represent 12 percent of all Americans, they account for 45 percent of new HIV infections, 46 percent of people living with HIV, and almost half of new AIDS diagnoses. Joining me again, Sir Elton John and Monique, and Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute who has been HIV positive since 1980.
Phill, you say HIV is a fire raging in the African-American community?
WILSON: Absolutely. The AIDS epidemic in black community continues to be out of control. Our house is on fire. And we need to figure out how to put that fire out.
COOPER: Do people talk about it as much as they should in the African-American community?
PHILL WILSON, PRESIDENT/CEO, BLACK AIDS INSTITUTE: People are beginning to talk more about it, but not as much as we should. Black community is slow to respond to the AIDS epidemic. Even now, people are quick to want to make it someone else's problem, it's happening somewhere else. It's happening in Africa, happening in Asia. But we have an AIDS epidemic in south central Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, and black communities all over the country.
COOPER: Why is it so high in black communities, why so many new infections?
WILSON: I think there are a number of reasons. One is we don't have infrastructure and capacity necessary to fight the disease. Like I said earlier the community was slow to respond to the disease. There continues to be stigma and denial, and people aren't willing to talk about it.
People don't have access to appropriate primary medical care. So people get diagnosed late in their disease state. You know we still get people who are walking into hospital rooms finding out they're HIV positive when they have late stage AIDS.
COOPER: Elton, is one of the things your foundation does look at though is the impact of HIV/AIDS among underserved communities?
JOHN: Absolutely. You have to, because these people will get neglected otherwise. And we are a great funder of the black AIDS institute, the Kaiser Foundation, great new campaign, and very poor areas in the south and in the Caribbean, in Latin America.
But in America, especially, we, we are championing, and trying to look after the African-American society, because I think as, as Phill says, they came to the party late. A lot of these people because of the stigma, like we found in Africa, people don't want to talk about it because of the shame involved.
It's -- you know, and Monique was absolutely right. Instead of picking on various people, various sections of the public like gay people, drug users, et cetera, et cetera, African-Americans, it is a human disease. This is a disease that knows no boundaries. Did you know for example it is the leading kill of women age 24 to 54, throughout the whole, AIDS. It's not breast cancer, it's AIDS.
WILSON: If I can, I want to thank the Elton John Foundation. They have been a critical supporter at the black AIDS institute. One of the reasons it is important to look at the AIDS epidemic in black communities today is because that's where the epidemic is primarily today. If we are going to be successful we have to follow the data and we have to really invest in where those folks who are most impacted.
COOPER: Do we know how much among -- is it spread primarily among gay men in the African-American community?
WILSON: I think the ways it is primarily spread in black communities, certainly gay, bisexual men, other men who have sex with men, a large percentage of heterosexual transmission, and then there is the use of IV drug use.
COOPER: There's a large heterosexual transmission among African- Americans?
WILSON: Yes. But probably one of the biggest drivers is that people find out that they're HIV positive late. So two things happen. If you find out you are HIV positive late, then there is more time when you are unknowingly transmitting the virus.
COOPER: And one-fifth, I believe, of HIV positive people in the United States do not know they're HIV positive. When you hear that, that means folks who are unwittingly, a, hurting themselves, because they're not getting treatment they probably need, and potentially they're hurting other people as well.
MONIQUE: You know what, Anderson, too, I think it's the fear of knowing. It's the fear of finding out. You know your body is doing something different. You know you're feeling different. You know that these different things are happening.
But because there is such a stigma attached to it especially in our community, you, you have a fear of knowing because then once you know, then what do you do?
COOPER: You have just got -- Phill was telling me you got a letter from somebody. WILSON: I got a letter just yesterday. If I can read it, it makes Monique's point. The letter goes, "Mr. Wilson, I have been recently diagnosed with HIV positive. I am an African-American, single, educated Christian man with a 20-year-old son. Needless to say I am experiencing wide range of emotion, fear, regret, anger, shame, sadness and embarrassment. This is truly the hardest sea son of my life I ever experienced. As I write this e-mail, I am afraid and ashamed."
And we get letters like that every single day. We get lowers from young people who, you know, I didn't know how to protect themselves or didn't know their lives were worth protecting. We get calls from mothers who are afraid and ashamed because they have a child living with AIDS.
COOPER: To your point, Monique, it's scary, but it's better to know.
MONIQUE: It is better to know because then you can take action. If you don't know, then you cannot take action. And if you do have it, you are spreading the disease. You are spread that disease because you are too afraid to say let me go find out. And you can almost understand why someone would say, I'm afraid, because of the judgment. Because of the isolation. Because of people saying, oh, you must be dirty. Oh, you must have been, you know, sexually active with all these people. Oh, you must have been a drug user.
It is so many things that come along with it. I think the moment that we treat this disease like any other disease, we could remove the judgment. And that way when that person has to go into the clinic or they have to go find out, they're not walking in with their head down.
COOPER: Yeah, got to take a quick break.
Sorry, go ahead, Elton.
JOHN: Anderson, this is a program about 30 years of AIDS. When AIDS started, it was all about stigma. Here we are sitting, 30 years on, and we're talking about stigma and the shame associated with AIDS and the judgment handed down to certain sections of society.
In a way, it's incredible that in a civilized country, and a very rich country, and a very educated country like America, that we are talking about this.
COOPER: We have to take a quick break. We'll have more with Sir Elton John and Phill. Monique, thank you so much for being with us. I love how you call Elton John baby. I want you to call me baby some day.
MONIQUE: I will call you baby, Anderson, soon as you sit on the couch at "The Monique Show."
COOPER: Any time.
MONIQUE: Thank you, guys. COOPER: Up next, gay Americans and HIV 30 years later. Fashion designer Mondo Guerra joins us. This past fall on "Project Runway," he revealed he is HIV positive and has been for years. We'll talk to him about finding out his status and why he went without treatment for so long. We'll also talk to Phill, who has been living with HIV since the early '80s. Incredible.
Here is another deciding moment. You can share yours at GreaterThanAIDS.com. This one from L.A. Laker Pau Gasol.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAU GASOL, BASKETBALL PLAYER: In 1991, when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive, obviously as a basketball fan and 11 year old at the time, finding out that one of my idols was affected by AIDS, HIV at the time. It was very shocking. It made me want to find out more about the illness. And that's why nowadays I do so much work on HIV/AIDS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYA ANGELOU, POET/AUTHOR: I have lost three precious people, friends, a family member to AIDS. And when I say it is the cruelest -- I mean, when two people get together to say I trust myself with you, I trust you with me, and in that joining AIDS intrudes, it is cruel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Cruel indeed. That was poet, author, playwright Maya Angelou describing how AIDS has affected her life. Today, men who have sex with men account for 53 percent of new HIV infections. And it's the only risk group in which new HIV infections are actually on the rise.
Last fall on the reality show "Project Runway," Mondo Guerra revealed he is HIV positive. He has known for ten years, but he never told his family. In this episode before he went public with his secret, he struggled to talk to his mom about having HIV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MONDO GUERRA, FASHION DESIGNER: Thank you, mom.
When we were talking in the park, I felt very close to her. And I wanted to tell her about my HIV positive status.
This has been so hard to keep a secret from my parents because I love them. But growing up in a religious, Catholic family that it would be an issue of morals and disrespect.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am so proud of you. GUERRA: I just felt like I said something I would have ruined the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Thirty years into the epidemic, the stigma of HIV/AIDS endures. Mondo Guerra joins me now. Back with Sir Elton John and Phill Wilson. So how did your family react when they finally learned?
GUERRA: I really waited until four days before the episode aired. It was just me and my dad and my mom and my partner at the dinner table. And you know, there is just no easy way about it. They just were really proud of me for speaking up and speaking out.
And they were -- you know, they hoped that I could inspire somebody else to come out and talk about it and, you know.
COOPER: You would think in a gay community in a place like New York or Denver, even, where you live, that there wouldn't be a stigma among gay people. But do you find there is?
GUERRA: You know, I wasn't in a relationship for seven years because I was so ashamed of being HIV positive. You know, being HIV positive --
COOPER: Ashamed? Why? What made you feel ashamed?
GUERRA: You know, even in the gay community I have been called dirty and unclean because I have HIV. I don't think I am a dirty person. I don't think I'm unclean, you know? And it just made me feel -- I didn't feel accepted, to tell you the truth.
COOPER: Phill, you have been diagnosed. You were diagnosed in the early 1980s.
WILSON: Right, 1981.
COOPER: You have also been involved for a long time, I read, with someone who is HIV negative, as you are as well or were. Do you find still stigma in the gay community?
WILSON: Absolutely. You know, Anderson, people all the time talk about, you know, I'm clean. You be too. You know, DD free, drug and disease free, you be too. The messages are blatant, that there is a risk involved, if you disclose your HIV status.
And there is something that is fundamentally shameful that 30 years into this epidemic, that at a time when a person needs now his family, his community, his friends the most, that we are afraid to share important information that would help bring us together.
COOPER: It also seems hypocritical. I mean, if you are having sex with people, you are exposing yourself, or there is some level of risk there. Why wouldn't you want to be involved -- or why would you rule out being in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive just because -- I mean, it's the same risk -- it's probably less risk, in fact, rather than going around with different people?
WILSON: Absolutely. When a person discloses their HIV status, that means they're thinking about it. That means they're concerned about protecting you. And it also means that they have developed the ability and the skill to protect their partner. You know, I am in a relationship where my --
COOPER: Means your partner is not HIV positive.
WILSON: Partner is HIV negative. Because we can talk about it, that protects him and that protects me.
COOPER: Elton, it is also -- I mean, just something so sad about the fact that 30 years into this that the infection rate among men who have sex myth men is on the rise.
JOHN: Until society stops marginalizing homosexuals, African- Americans, intravenous drug users, until we are treated with compassion and respect and as a human being as part of -- we're all God's children -- then people will find it hard to have respect for themselves if they don't have respect from the community.
It is about time that people started being -- using their so- called Christian moral values, which they actually don't have, by being compassionate to everybody with the HIV/AIDS and particularly to gay people.
I am fed up, as a gay man, being marginalized by religious people, by religious leaders, by being told I'm less than, even though I can contribute just as much as anybody else to society. I will fight for the gay community as much as I can on this respect. We have got to have respect. We have got to have a fair and rights.
And we have got to be treated compassionately by so-called religious leaders, who, as far as I'm concerned, use religion in a kind of term just for power and for hatred, and not for the real reason that Jesus Christ came on to this Earth and said, we must -- we are all God's children; we treat each other as equals; and we are all human.
COOPER: You know, Maya Angelou said that what is so insidious about this is that this is a disease which in that tender moment where people are expressing their love for one another, or expressing a connection with one another, this intrudes, this intervenes. How does one combat that? How do you get more people whether it's aware or -- how do we get these infection rates down?
WILSON: It's funny, this week, Anderson, that an entire country is talking about empathy and blame and shame. I know it is often dangerous to compare. But the president just yesterday talked about our need to kind of sharpen our imagination to be empathetic.
That is so true with HIV/AIDS. I think that is the message. We have a lot more in common, a lot more that joins us than separates us.
COOPER: I appreciate, Mondo, you being with us. Thank you. GUERRA: Thank you.
COOPER: Elton and Phill stay around. Still ahead, the life changing medical advances in the fight against AIDS/HIV. Dr. Anthony Fauci will join us, a warrior in this battle since, well, the earliest days. He's been working on a possible vaccine. We'll talk to him about the latest developments.
First, another deciding moment, actress Susan Sarandon and how new AIDS drugs have helped transform her perspective.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS: One of the things at one point after it had been called AIDS and identified was to emphasize that these were people living with HIV, and that HIV was going to be an ongoing condition just like diabetes or anything else, but that you could live with it. As opposed to be called an AIDS victim, which was huge, because as soon as you found out you were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, people just gave up. It was such a -- such a death sentence.
So that for me was a huge turning point too. When -- when we started to call people -- people living with AIDS people HIV positive, and not AIDS victims.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET CHO, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents owned a bookstore on Polk Street. And this bookstore catered to the gay community. And in the mid 1980s, we started having problems with the business. Nobody was buying books anymore and a lot of the businesses in the neighborhood were closing.
And we realized it was because everybody was dying of AIDS. My parents had to close their business. And not only that, I could see that the whole world -- the whole world that I loved, and the whole world that I grew up in was dying. That's when I realized I had to do something about AIDS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Comedian/actress Margaret Cho, describing the toll the AIDS epidemic took on San Francisco's gay community early in the epidemic. In the beginning, AIDS was a death sentence. Many of those who were infected died within weeks or months.
AZT, the first AIDS drug, was approved in 1987. But it wasn't until new classes of drugs were developed almost ten years later that the tide begin to turn. Combined with existing drugs, these new medications transformed HIV/AIDS into a manageable disease for many, treated by doctors now as a chronic condition.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is widely recognized as a key pioneer in AIDS research and treatment. He's been in the trenches since the beginning. He joins me now, along with Sir Elton John and Phill Wilson, who are back as well.
Dr. Fauci, thank you for being with me. There have been dramatic developments since these antiretroviral drugs were developed. I mean, it's really -- it's changed the face of AIDS.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR NIAID: It's totally transformed it. Probably the best way to describe it to people is that when I began admitting patients, the median survival of those individuals was 26 weeks. Now, if a 20-year-old comes to our hospital and in any hospital, really, with facilities and have the capability of doing this -- that they come in newly infected with HIV and I started them on correct antiretroviral combination therapy, you mathematically can model, Anderson, that they would live an additional 50 years.
So you have gone from a 26-week median survival to, if you get medicines in time and the correct medicines, you can live an additional 50 years if you are 20 years old.
COOPER: It is a chronic condition now, like Diabetes or something like that?
FAUCI: Exactly. But the real problem we are having when we talk about how far we have come and how far we have to go is that we still have so many people who are infected who don't know they're infected, and they're not getting on to therapy at an appropriate time.
COOPER: Twenty percent of Americans don't know.
COOPER: Phill, do you take drugs now?
WILSON: Absolutely. Actually, I was -- I am one of those people who is alive today because of the new medications. In 1996, my doctors had given me 24 hours to live. And I am here today because I have access to care and treatment. And I have a loving, supporting family and friends.
COOPER: What is it like every day taking medicine? Is it onerous? Does it have a medical impact on you?
WILSON: Over time, the medicines have gotten better. Today, the side effects are relatively mild. I basically take my meds every night before I go to bed. I go on with my life.
COOPER: Dr. Fauci, there have been a lot of developments in the last year. There was a case in Germany. Someone actually no longer having HIV in their blood after getting some stem cells. Is that something people should be excited about?
FAUCI: Yes and no. People are calling that a cure. It's a very unusual situation, Anderson, that's not practically applicable to the people who have HIV. It was someone who had Leukemia as a secondary complication and had a stem cell transplant.
COOPER: What were the best things going on? FAUCI: The two things that happened this year that are in the area of prevention that we're excited about. One was the first glimmer of hope in a topical microbicide (ph) in a study in Africa.
COOPER: That's a gel women would use before having intercourse.
FAUCI: Exactly. That was a really important advance. The other one is a study called pre-exposure prophylactics (ph), where men who have sex with men who are at high risk were given either a placebo or a drug that actually you would take if you were infected, but only taken every day in order to prevent infection.
And for the people who actually adhere to the regimen and took it, it was highly effective in preventing them from getting HIV.
COOPER: Is that something that would actually be useful for somebody to use? If somebody is dating somebody who has HIV and they're concerned or they're practicing unsafe sex, is that something they should be on?
FAUCI: Well, we're not at the point of making a recommendation, because we want to make sure the safety and things like that. But what's going to happen, Anderson, for sure is that prevention is not going to be uni-dimensional. It's going to have to be a combination of things, use of condom, perhaps pre-exposure prophylactics, topical microbicide gels in women.
COOPER: Why is a vaccine so hard? What makes --
FAUCI: HIV is a very, very unusual virus. And the body has not given -- doesn't have the capability, Even in people who are infected, to fight off the virus. Any other microbe, a vaccine or virus that we make a vaccine against, we use the model that the body usually ultimately can clear the virus from the body.
With HIV, astoundingly, of the many, many millions of people who have been infected, there's not a single documented case of someone's immune system ultimately clearing the virus.
WILSON: Anderson, that's why, even though we're making tremendous progress, we still have to focus on prevention. Today, we're not going to -- quite frankly, and I'm a person living with HIV -- we're not going to treat ourselves out of this disease. We have to make sure that while the drugs are better, you know, it is still better not to get HIV at all.
COOPER: That's an important point. Some young people especially out there will say, look, on the one hand, you see all these ads where people are healthy and they're living with HIV, and you want those messages because that's a reality for people living with HIV. At the same time, you don't want people who don't have it to think, it's not so bad.
FAUCI: That would be a big mistake for sure.
WILSON: Even so, I can tell you firsthand that while I go on with my life every single day -- and HIV is a part of my life. It's not my entire life. But every single day I live my life knowing that I have this life-threatening disease. And every single day I'm reminded of that, because I have to take the medications.
And for many, many Americans, they don't have access to the drugs and the treatment. So while we have all these positive advances, they're not a cure, number one, and the drugs don't work for everybody, and many folks don't have access to them.
COOPER: I want to thank you, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Thanks so much, Phill Wilson, as well. Really remarkable work you're doing.
Up next, some final thoughts from Sir Elton John. And here's singer Barry Manilow with his deciding moment in the fight against AIDS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP).
BARRY MANILOW, SINGER: I got a phone call from Elizabeth Taylor. And she was going to put together a benefit to raise money for AIDS research and would I be the entertainer. And I told her that I wasn't on the road and I didn't have a band, but I'd be happy to just sit at the piano and play and sing.
She's been in the forefront of raising money for AIDS research ever since. And I was happy to be able to do it. And I -- she is absolutely our hero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And I'm joined once again by Sir Elton John. As you look forward, what gives you the most hope? What gives you the most sense of optimism in terms of battling this illness?
JOHN: I don't know. I really don't. It's a very, very -- we're sitting here, and yes, we have come a long way, and people are leading great lives and having, you know, a proper life now. But until we get rid of the stigma, until we get rid of -- until we get the proper education in schools, until we get the proper love from everybody in the community, we're going to still battle against this.
But, yes, I'm sitting here and you may think I'm a miserable sod.
COOPER: I do not think you're a miserable sod.
JOHN: But, you know, we have a lot of work to do. And mostly it's down to the way this disease thought about and the way people are thought about who have this disease. It's so important to get tested. And, you know, we were saying the same thins ten years ago.
So I'm always an optimist. We seem to have made bigger strides in sub Sahara Africa than we have in America over the last ten years, in a way, and that's astonishing because this is a very educated society. But, you know, we live in hope. We will never give up. But I'd just like to see a little more love and compassion around the place, and a little more education in the schools.
COOPER: Sir Elton John raised more than 250 million dollars in this battle, and I appreciate you being with us tonight. Thank you.
JOHN: Thank you, baby.
COOPER: In the span of -- yeah, Monique wouldn't call me baby. You call me baby. I appreciate it. Thanks. I'm hoping to get a baby from Monique some day.
In the span of 30 years, HIV/AIDS has gone from a mysterious and certain killer to a chronic condition for a lot of Americans. It's a condition that no longer defines who they are. It's simply one more detail of their lives.
They're our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, our countrymen, fellow citizens, loved ones living with HIV. Here's some of them. Thanks for watching.