April 8 marks the 28 year anniversary of Ryan White’s death.
Before HIV transmission was well understood, factor 8, a protein important to blood clotting, was often pooled from hundreds of untested blood donations. This exposed hemophilia patients like Ryan White to HIV; in an article for PBS Newshour, Dr. Howard Markel recalls that “virtually every hemophiliac [he] treated in the mid-1980s has since died from AIDS.”
Ryan White was a teenager living with hemophilia during this time period. He was diagnosed with HIV in December, 1984, and became an eloquent spokesperson for people living with HIV. Among other forms of stigma, Ryan White was initially not permitted to attend school after his HIV diagnosis. After winning a court case to resume in-person attendance at school, Ryan and his family faced intense hostility from community members, and relocated to Cicero, Indiana.
Homophobia and misinformation about HIV transmission were rampant sources of prejudice against people living with HIV; Ryan White’s advocacy helped dispel some of the misinformation about the nature and transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Months after Ryan White’s death on April 8, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Ryan White CARE Act to help cities, states, and community organizations to develop comprehensive systems of care; the legislation targeted the poorest people living in the United States with HIV/AIDS.