HIV infection is now perceived as the end stage of a chronic disease that is spreading most rapidly among blacks and Hispanics. The politics of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s were dominated by four interacting factors: fear and fascination; who had the disease and to whom it seemed to be spreading; the endemic problems of United States social policy; and the impact on policy of advances in scientific knowledge. This paper analyzes the political history of each of these factors and describes the dominant policies of the federal government and the states regarding HIV in the areas of surveillance, prevention, research, and financing. Four uncertainties will have a profound influence on the future politics of the HIV epidemic: how the states and the federal government will address the general problems of paying for the care of people with chronic diseases and providing access to care for the uninsured and the underinsured; the number and distribution of the sexual behaviors that transmit infection with HIV and the effectiveness of policies to persuade people to modify these behaviors; precisely who uses addictive drugs and the effectiveness of measures to change their behavior; and the natural history of the virus.

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