A Milestone Year for BETA
In June 1988, the first issue of BETA—short for Bulletin of Experimental Treatments for AIDS—carried this one-word headline: “AZT.” It was the only HIV drug on the market at the time, and although a breakthrough in HIV treatment, it was far from perfect.
“AZT was not able to suppress the virus for very long, and people developed resistance to the drug,” recalls Ron Baker, founding editor of BETA. “Usually at the most, they got a year’s worth of suppression out of it. But still, it was something!”
With perspectives from doctors, researchers, and community members, BETA was a much needed source of accurate, unbiased information for people making life-or-death decisions about their health. “The idea behind the creation of BETA was to better serve the needs of people with HIV who were candidates for treatment and who wanted more information about their options,” Baker explains. “And it gave people hope.”
This month BETA marks two milestones: our first online anniversary, and the publication’s 25th year reporting on advances in HIV treatment, prevention, and cure research.
Early issues of the printed bulletin weighed in on medications available only in clinical trials: “People were willing to take the risk that, even though not much was known about those drugs, they might be better than nothing,” remembers Baker.
As treatment strategies evolved, so did BETA. “Once the first protease inhibitors were approved, things turned for the better almost overnight,” Baker adds. “There were more drugs, not just to suppress the virus but to treat people who had AIDS-related conditions. So we took on that work, as well, as a part of our coverage: all the treatment needs of the community.”
Adapting to the changing needs of readers spurred the publication’s move to betablog.org last June. In the past twelve months BETA has covered topics that, twenty five years ago, might have seemed farfetched or resembled science fiction more than HIV science—genetically modified HIV-blocking cells, the first known HIV cure (and possibly the second), a daily pill to help prevent infection, and aging with the virus, to name a few.
Today’s expanded treatment options and prevention breakthroughs make BETA even more relevant, Baker believes: “If anything, I think it’s more important now because there are so many options. It’s extremely important for people to have access to as much information as possible. BETA helps meet that need.”
Even with its new digital home and broader content, BETA today is true to the spirit of that original eight-page bulletin: It’s all about health literacy and providing the information people need to ask better questions and make smart decisions about their health and wellness.
Are there topics you want to see BETA cover? Let us know! Use the comments section below to post your suggestions. And keep an eye out for an online reader survey with questions about your priorities and interests, and what you want to see more of on BETA.