When I was in high school, many years ago, I recall reading Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Masque of the Red Death. The story is an allegory, which means that the point of the story lays beneath and between the words Poe penned. Poe claimed to dislike allegories. But despite his professed aversion to them, in 1843 he wrote the ‘Masque’ and it became one of his better-known works. If you have never had the opportunity to read it, I highly recommend that you do. You can find the story on the Internet and read it for free.
The story tells the tale of Prince Prospero who ruled in some far off land. A plague came to his realm and struck with ferocity upon the people he ruled. The plague became known as the “Red Death” and in Poe’s own words:
” The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour…”
When about half of the people Prince Prospero ruled over succumbed to the illness, the prince hatched a plan to take one thousand healthy friends and take refuge in one of his castles. He barred entry and exit from the castle and intended to wait out in splendor, the disease that coursed through his land.
At the end of 2006, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 34 million and 47 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. During 2006, between 2.5 million and 3.5 million people died from AIDS. Over half of all the people who live with HIV/AIDS and die from AIDS live in Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 5.9% of the adult population is infected with HIV/AIDS. In the same area, 2.1 million adults and children died of the disease in 2006. In North America, 0.8% of the population is infected, and 18,000 people died from AIDS in 2006.
Prince Prospero’s idea was simply to let the Red Death burn itself out. Once the disease had left, he and his guests could leave the castle and repopulate the land. This is the reason why the prince chose his guests principally from among the nobles and knights of his realm. To be fair, he also brought in some entertainers and artists, knowing that he and his guests would have to be entertained during their seclusion.
In 2001, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was started. Since then, $3.3 billion has been obtained from nations throughout the world to help fight disease in Africa. In addition to this, the U.S. Government has contributed an additional $1.1 billion under the President’s Plan for AIDS relief.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2005, the U.S. Government distributed nearly $3 billion for HIV/AIDS assistance to the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This single-year assistance is nearly equal to all of the assistance given by all nations over the past 5 years to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.
After being locked up in the castle for six months, Prince Prospero’s guests were experiencing a little “cabin fever”. So the prince decided to throw a big costumed ball in his apartments within the castle. The prince had seven apartments – a not insignificant number. Each apartment was decorated in differing styles with different colors. One apartment, however, was black and blood red. Most of the guests didn’t go into this apartment because it seemed so dark and foreboding.
Because HIV/AIDS suppresses the human immune system, diseases that were normally suppressed within the human population have returned. Tuberculosis (TB) is one of those diseases. Contrary to what most people believe, TB was never actually cured. Through a regime of drugs, man found a way to suppress the disease. But for the most part, the disease is suppressed by one’s own immune system. Today, it is believed that as many as one-third of the human population on Earth carries a TB strain within their bodies. But so long as their immune system is unimpaired, these estimated 2 billion people may anticipate living their entire lives without ever experiencing a single symptom of TB.
The ball the prince holds is a delight to everyone in the castle. People are enjoying themselves and seem to be completely oblivious to the horrors taking place outside the castle walls. But then, all of a sudden, there appears one person who is costumed as a victim of the Red Death. The crowd shrieks in horror and moves away in fear and loathing from this person. The Prince flies into a rage at seeing one of his apparent guests mocking and terrorizing both he and everyone else at the ball. He demands that the perpetrator be apprehended and hanged from the castle wall for his effrontery.
Because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the lack of drugs and money to combat the disease, TB has not only returned to plague the people of Africa, it has also mutated into new strains. Multi-Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a strain that is extremely difficult to control and requires the use of many anti-retroviral drugs to combat. WHO has issued repeated warnings that, left unchecked, this new strain of TB can become a global pandemic. Because TB is spread by air, there is no way to protect oneself from contracting the disease. If you are around someone with active TB, then you are probably going to contract the disease.
Now, a new strain of TB has been discovered and identified as Extremely Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB). Some scientists believe XDR-TB is untreatable. In studies conducted by WHO and the U.S. Center for Disease Control, in Russia and Asia, 53 patients suffering from XDR-TB were treated with anti-retroviral drugs. Despite this treatment, 52 of the patients died within just 25 days of contracting the illness.
The prince and his knights pursue the offending guest through the apartments until they corner him in the black and blood red, seventh apartment. There, to their shock and horror, they discover that the perpetrator was not wearing a costume, but in fact, is infected with the Red Death plague. Within a short time, the prince and all who had gathered within the castle walls perished from the disease.
According to WHO, today approximately 4% of all known XDR-TB cases are found in patients residing in the United States. WHO and other agencies warn that the failure of developed nations to seriously confront and combat this growing epidemic and the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has spawned XDR-TB, will result in a severe mortality impact worldwide.