A History of Delivering News and Hope

The first five years of the AIDS epidemic were the darkest our community has ever seen. But out of the darkness a wave of activism was born, demanding action from the U.S. government. One of the first glimmers of hope was a direct result of that activism: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established a priority review process and approved the drug AZT as the very first treatment for HIV and AIDS. It was one of the fastest drug approvals in history under a newly established framework that still exists today.

During that time, the sense of crisis was pervasive. Responding to the FDA action, people at San Francisco AIDS Foundation felt the urgent need to inform the community about AZT and other emerging treatments for HIV/AIDS. So in June 1988, we published the very first issue of the Bulletin for Experimental Treatments for AIDS, or BETA.

“There was such limited information about treatments at that time, in the late 1980s,” said Ron Baker, founding editor of BETA. “People were dying and they were desperate to try something that might work to save their lives, and we wanted to provide the latest information possible.”

From the outset, the editors of BETA made it clear they were never endorsing any specific drugs or courses of action, but they wanted to make sure people living with HIV/AIDS were educated about their treatment options. 

The first issue of BETA highlighted the controversy surrounding AZT. Dr. Marcus Conant, one of the co-founders of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, was quoted as saying, “AZT works better than many had even hoped.”

On the contrary, said Dr. Joseph Sonnabend: “The toxicity of AZT is probably greater than reported, and it can be expected that reports will continue to appear demonstrating the harmful effects of the drug.”

These kinds of debates—and articles that analyzed the pros and cons of the latest treatments—became the hallmarks of BETA’s approach to reporting. Following that first issue, readership grew rapidly. BETA soon became the go-to resource for reliable and credible information about HIV/AIDS medicines.

“There were certainly people who were very anxious to get their issue of BETA every three months,” said Baker. “I think it helped make people feel that the science community was working to fight this disease. I think it gave a lot of people hope that something could be done.”

For the past 24 years, BETA has never stopped providing its high-quality brand of reporting to give people timely information to improve their health.

“People living with HIV/AIDS across the country and around the world constantly tell us what a valuable resource the publication is to them,” said Reilly O’Neal, editor of BETA. “Our commitment to our readers, and to providing them with the best possible information to make the best possible decisions about their own health and well-being, is something we take very seriously.”

This summer, BETA entered a new era. It is now published online as the BETA Blog. The new format allows contributors and columnists to reach more people around the world with timelier news, perspectives, and expert opinions on the latest in HIV prevention, treatment, and living well with the virus.

“Thanks to the work of activists, scientists, and care providers, there are far more HIV treatment and prevention options today than when BETA first began, and the BETA Blog now covers topics that were inconceivable back then, such as aging with HIV or becoming a positive parent,” said O’Neal. “But the publication is still about health literacy—giving people the tools they need to ask smarter questions, understand meaningful developments in HIV research, and get the most from their medical care.”

“I’m so delighted that all these years later BETA is still going,” said Baker. “It’s incredibly important work and I know people rely on the information they get from BETA.”

The foundation invites you to switch on your HIV smarts and visit the BETA Blog today to see breaking HIV health and prevention news, columns, interviews, and resources on what matters most to people living with the virus or learning ways to stay HIV negative.

Has BETA made an impact in your life? Are you a longtime reader? What do you think of the new BETA blog?

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