What we (Should) Have Learned from the AIDS Crisis

In the 1980s, the high level of stigma and fear about HIV/AIDS led to people being treated in dehumanizing ways. Failures in government initiatives, public policy and health education increased the epidemic’s death toll alongside isolating HIV positive people and their carers. AIDS remains a global pandemic, and yet it has largely fallen out of the media spotlight beyond the occasional documentary film or television series.

Why is this and what should we have learned from AIDS as human civilisation confronts a new global pandemic? What did and does AIDS reveal about the inequalities of healthcare and how marginalized communities suffer during global pandemics? What has AIDS taught us about loss and disenfranchised grief for the loved ones mourning deaths during COVID restrictions? And in what ways do pandemics change the wider public conversations about death and dying, offering opportunities for political activism and change?

The panel explores what the AIDS pandemic has to teach us in the context of the current global pandemic and how pandemics can radically change attitudes towards public healthcare, political power, social activism, death, dying and grief.

Dr John Troyer, Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, facilitates the discussion.

John is joined by Robert James, a lecturer in the social care department at the University of Sussex who’s has been involved in the HIV sector since his diagnosis in the 1980s. Actor and activist Jonathan Blake also joins. One of the first men in the UK diagnosed as HIV positive, Jonathan has been living with the virus since 1982.

We also welcome Susan Cole-Haley, an award-winning HIV activist, broadcaster, writer and public speaker who’s been advocating for the rights of people living with HIV for almost 20 years. Susan has a particular focus on health inequalities and issues affecting women and people from Black communities.


Facilitator, John Troyer

Dr John Troyer

Robert James bio pic

Robert James

Susan Cole-Haley

Susan Cole-Haley

Jonathan Blake February 2021

Jonathan Blake