As we enter the second year of the pandemic, Robin Gorna reflects on how her life has been shaped by pandemics over the past 50 years
New epidemics demand humility, curiosity and hope. On 5 June 1981, the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) published its first report of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five gay men in Los Angeles, California; on 5 January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first report of pneumonia of unknown cause in 44 patents in Wuhan, China.
As we move into the second miserable year of the new pandemic, we also hit the fifth decade of the one where I did my growing up. My life continues to be endlessly changed by these different, and in some ways oddly similar, pandemics. Some of the responses to Covid build brilliantly on the lessons of the past, other aspects should. From the beginning I was fascinated by this rapidly emerging new epidemic, and the similarities of science, politics and people with what I experienced decades ago. Then in May 2020 – late in the first wave – I became sick with Covid-19. As my own infection lingered, so did my focus on the connections and differences, and the lessons we still might have time to learn, from global and local responses to Aids.
Five years after that first pandemic started, I found myself on the barricades caught up in the excitement of volunteering for the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT). An enthusiastic, idealistic student, I learned so much from extraordinary men (mostly) whose activism was grounded in the global struggle for gay rights. A huge amount of energy for change came from people living with HIV and Aids, like the UK’s (mostly now disbanded) support groups Frontliners, Positively Women and Blackliners.