AIDS victims need acceptance and support as much as they need medical care.
That was the message Monday from Warren Buckingham III, the deputy director of HIV Services for the Bureau of Health Resources of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Buckingham himself is HIV positive. He delivered the keynote address at the Tri-State Conference on AIDS, sponsored by the Erie County Medical Center.
"The most important thing that any of us needs is acceptance and support and the ability to safely disclose," he said. "Part of that comes about when people like me stand in front of podiums, but it also needs to happen safely in churches, schools and most importantly in families."
Buckingham was diagnosed HIV positive nine years ago, but based on his medical history, doctors believe he may have had the infection for as long as 19 years. He said living with AIDS is "like walking a tightrope."
"In the best of worlds, one end of the tightrope is being held up by science and the other end is held up by faithful people who are praying for those of us who are living with AIDS," he said. "As long as the tension is right, that wire is pretty stable. But if one end or the other is not at full energy, it can be a very treacherous walk."
Buckingham believes there is more reason to be hopeful now about a possible cure for AIDS than at any time since the epidemic started. He admits that is partly due to the recent and controversial discovery of a drug cocktail used to treat AIDS patients, but he stressed it won't help everyone.