Moreno And Tilly Team Up Against AIDS
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Rita Moreno and Jennifer Tilly are a showcase for beauty and talent. But both
award-winning actresses will soon be sharing the stage to focus the spotlight
not on themselves but on HIV/AIDS awareness.
and Rita Moreno advocate better education to defeat AIDS.
"The most important and immediate message is that HIV/AIDS can kill you," says
Moreno, who won an Oscar for her role in West Side Story. "And if it
doesn't kill you, it can kill someone else. If you're having sex, you need to
protect yourself and others."
Hosted by Bound star Jennifer Tilly, the
seventh annual Tony Awards Party on June 8 will benefit Aid For AIDS and the
Actors' Fund. Moreno will be presented the Julie Harris Award for Lifetime Achievement
for her tireless devotion to helping fight HIV/AIDS.
"I am thrilled to host this benefit," says Tilly
whose movies include Liar, Liar and Bullets over Broadway. "Come
on, it's Rita Moreno and on top of that we have a chance to help people fighting
HIV/AIDS who truly need our compassion and support."
Moreno has long supported AIDS charities and was
one of the first major stars to promote awareness.
"A lot of us saw it early on as a plague and a scourge and that it needed immediate
attention because our government was turning the other way," recalls Moreno,
who is the only female performer ever to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
"Back then there was so little known about the disease. Now we have treatments
that prolong life and we continue to hope for a vaccine or cure."
"I naturally got involved because the community I work in was among the first
to be devastated by HIV/AIDS," Tilly says. "I have lost several close friends
to AIDS so I am doing everything I can to help raise awareness. AIDS is not
gone. It's still here and we need to protect ourselves."
Short of abstinence, condoms are still the best protection against HIV. But
many worry that young people, straight or gay, are not paying attention to the
safe sex message.
"We're seeing more and more young people at risk," Moreno says. "It's very
upsetting that so many young people feel that AIDS can't harm them."
"Young people need to know they have to practice safe sex every time, not just
when it's convenient," Tilly advises. "This is a terrible disease and sex is
not worth dying for."
Core communities like African-Americans, young people under 25, and heterosexual
women make up the list of new at-risk groups.
"Young people are somehow mistaken that HIV is no longer a threat -- that you
can take these new drugs and be fine," Tilly notes. "Because of this we're seeing
increases in new cases again."
Moreno is especially concerned about the rising infection rates among women.
"A lot of women don't seem to know how to take control of their sexual lives,"
Moreno says. "By that I mean they are unable to say no to sex if the man won't
wear a condom."
"But I don't think it's enough to reach just the young women," Moreno adds.
"We have to reach their parents and help them understand. Parents have to get
more deeply involved in protecting their children. The good old Nancy Reagan
days of 'Just Say No' aren't enough."
And simply feeling fine doesn't mean a person isn't infected.
Currently, the only way to determine with near certainty whether you are infected
is to get tested. Many HIV positive people do not have any symptoms at all for
Some of the possible warning signs of HIV infection include:
- rapid weight loss
- dry cough
- recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- profound and unexplained fatigue
- swollen lymph glands in the armpit, groin, or neck
- prolonged diarrhea - lasting a week or more
- white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth,
or in the throat
While new drug therapies and awareness campaigns have reduced infection rates
from the roughly 150,000 per year in the early 1980's to about 40,000 per year
currently, HIV/AIDS is poised to re-emerge if sexually active people do not
According to the CDC, approximately 650,000 - 900,000 Americans are living
with HIV. This wide range of cases illuminates the dangerous fact that as many
as 40% of Americans don't know they have HIV until just before they develop
And much of the problem is the HIV virus is literally hiding inside people.
Hide and seek
"The search for new drugs has focused primarily on attempts to inhibit viral
replication," says Michael Scolaro, medical director and founder of Let Their
Be Hope Medical Research Institute which specializes in HIV/AIDS. "We're moving
to the next era of treatment approaches that will address the sanctuary tissues
and cells of the lymph nodes and lymphoid organs which are largely safe from
the oral antiviral medications."
Scolaro says that sanctuary tissues allow the HIV virus to remain either dormant
or more ominously - safe from the anti-viral treatments.
"We can obtain negative viral loads so that there appears to be no virus when
we take a sample of blood," explains Scolaro, who is also a clinical associate
professor at USC Keck School of Medicine. "However, if we stop treatment, within
a matter of weeks huge amounts of virus can be again detected in the blood.
So we know there is a source of re-supply and it is coming from the sanctuaries."
By targeting the sanctuaries where HIV hides, it is believed that anti-viral
treatments can be more effective in eliminating the virus completely and perhaps
freeing patients from a lifetime of taking medications.
"The medications that will attempt to reach those sanctuaries may be the very
drugs that are currently being used but delivered right now only orally," Scolaro
In the meantime, the first member of a new class of HIV/AIDS drugs called fuzeon
appears to be quite effective. Fuzeon is a fusion inhibitor and works by preventing
HIV from infiltrating the immune-system cells they destroy. Given as a subcutaneous
injection twice daily in combination with other HIV treatments, the biggest
drawback is fuzeon's extremely high cost per dose. Annual treatment costs are
estimated at over $20,000.
But hope continues to build throughout the scientific and medical communities
that a vaccine and a cure will be found for the disease that has claimed over
440,000 American lives since it was formally identified over 20 years ago.
"One of these days someone is going to come up with the 'Ah ha' factor," Moreno
says. "And hopefully that will be sooner rather than later because so many people
have been affected by this disease. It's time to put at end to it."
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Created: 6/2/2003  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/2/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.