AMERICA's Centre for Disease Control estimates that, with about one million Americans carrying the virus that causes AIDS, the disease will claim the equivalent number of American lives as the Vietnam War, every year, for the foreseeable future. Behind those bleak statistics are tens of thousands of individual human tragedies. None, with the possible exception of Ryan White, the little boy with AIDS, have wrenched the hearts of Americans like the story of the Glaser family, who lost another member last weekend when Elizabeth Glaser, 47, died at her Santa Monica home. Paul Michael Glaser is best known to Americans - and the world for that matter - as the star of the hugely successful 70s cop show, Starsky and Hutch, in which he played Detective Dave Starsky. Glaser has since succeeded in making the transition to directing films. In 1980, just before he departed small screen idolatry and at the height of his fame as an actor, he married Elizabeth Meyer, a former teacher and director of a children's museum in Los Angeles. The following year, when Elizabeth was expecting her first child Ariel, she began hemorrhaging and was rushed to hospital and given a timely blood transfusion. Her daughter was born, seemingly fine. Shortly after the birth, Mrs Glaser read an article warning of the dangers of contracting AIDS through blood transfusions, but her doctor assured her the risks were slight. In 1985, Ariel became seriously ill, with a low red blood cell count, and after she did not respond well to treatment, doctors ran tests and discovered she had contracted the HIV virus, which her mother had contracted through the blood transfusion and passed on to Ariel through breast feeding. Worse still, she had unknowingly infected her son Jake while pregnant in 1984. Paul Glaser, meanwhile, tested negative for the HIV virus. When Ariel died of AIDS at the age of seven, in 1988, the Glasers made the decision to go public with their plight, telling The Los Angeles Times the appalling details themselves before the story exploded in the tabloids. Mrs Glaser said the family had 'been dealt the worst hand of cards any family could have gotten'. Together, they also told their pre-school age son his condition. The Glasers' tale is simultaneously horrifying and uplifting. A spokesman for the family, Josh Baran, said last week that the death of Ariel marked a turning point in Elizabeth's life. Rather than quietly fade from public life, Mrs Glaser was determined to use her platform to benefit AIDS sufferers, especially children. 'Most people would have retired,' said Josh Baran. 'She took all the feeling and all the anger and put it into her work. She didn't allow herself to be depressed.' As probably the first high profile mother with AIDS, Elizabeth was ideally placed to evoke a more compassionate response to the epidemic. As an 'innocent' victim who had contracted the virus through a blood transfusion, she was the type of AIDS sufferer middle America could embrace without hesitation. Baran said, though, that she refused to be identified as an 'innocent victim' since it implied that others were deserving of their plight. In 1988, she co-founded the acclaimed Paediatric AIDS Foundation, which has raised more than $US30 million (HK$232 million) in private donations and has become the charity of choice for many in Hollywood's now highly-AIDS conscious community. Baran says the Foundation spends 94 cents of every dollar donated on research, only six per cent of its funds go to administration - a figure he describes as unheard of for charitable organisations. 'Elizabeth was out publicly with her illness before it was fashionable,' said Dean Licitra, of AIDS Project Los Angeles, one of the nation's largest AIDS organisations, in one of the dozens of tributes last week. 'She was a courageous pioneer who turned her disease into something positive.' The energy of activists like Mrs Glaser has helped to mobilise the entertainment industry, which, after a sluggish initial response, has become perhaps the single greatest, non-government weapon against the disease, in both funding and promoting awareness. 'It has and continues to be devastating to the industry,' said Licitra of the death toll among actors, writers, producers and others in the business. 'Any day of the week, you can open Variety [the entertainment newspaper in LA] and read about someone who has died of AIDS-related illnesses.' After setting up the Paediatric AIDS Foundation, Mrs Glaser continued to promote awareness of AIDS through multiple interviews, the most notable being a People magazine cover story and an appearance with her husband Paul on the powerful current affairs forum, 60 Minutes. But her defining moment came a little over two years ago at the Democratic Convention in New York, where prior to Bill Clinton's nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate, she shared the stage with Bob Hattoy, a Clinton aide who also carried the AIDS virus. In a stirring, nationally televised speech that silenced the upbeat audience of Democratic diehards and brought tears to hardened political operators, Mrs Glaser told her family's story. 'Twenty years ago, I wanted to be at the Democratic Convention because it was a way to participate in our country,' she told Madison Square Garden. 'Today I am here because it's a matter of life and death.' In an apparent condemnation of the alleged indifference of the previous Reagan and Bush administrations, Glaser challenged the public to shed its prejudices and become serious about tackling the disease. 'I have learned my lessons the hard way - and I know that America has lost her path, and is at risk of losing her soul . . . This is not the America I was raised to be proud of. I was raised to believe that others' problems were my problems as well. 'But when I tell most people about HIV in hopes that they will help and care, I see the look in their eyes. It's not my problem, they're thinking. Well, it's everyone's problem and we need a leader who will tell us that.' Though her speech had a partisan setting, Mrs Glaser attracted support from both sides of politics. AFTER her death, there were tributes from President Clinton - whom she met several times to discuss AIDS policy, according to Josh Baran - and from Senator Orrin Hatch, the conservative Senator from Utah, who called Elizabeth 'one of the greatest women I've ever met. I never really centred on the fact there were a significant number of children who suffered', said Sen. Hatch. 'She brought that home to me.' President Clinton said the nation should honour her memory by 'finishing the work to which she gave everything she had', Spokesman Baran said Bill and Hillary Clinton had visited Mrs Glaser 'on a number of occasions' when she was seriously ill. Paul Glaser has kept a brave face throughout his ordeal and preferred to largely remain in the background and let his wife speak for the family and about the disease. Baran said it was unlikely that Glaser would take up his wife's position with AIDS groups, but would probably return to directing films shortly. Glaser was unable to work in the past six months as he devoted himself to caring for Elizabeth full-time. 'He wanted to be at her side the last six months and he couldn't be out of town,' said Baran. 'I would imagine he'll be more active directing now. 'Paul has a very strong core. He's handled this as well as anyone possibly could.' If the Glasers have been granted one small mercy in recent years, it is the continued good health of 10-year-old Jake, who shows no evidence of AIDS, despite carrying the virus from birth. 'That is remarkable,' said Baran. Jake has been taking the AIDS drug AZT for several years. That the Glasers' tragedy has inspired the best rather than the worst in human nature was demonstrated when Elizabeth and Paul addressed 200 parents at their son's pre-school and told them their children had played with a boy who carried the AIDS virus. As the Glasers recounted to The Los Angeles Times , their announcement was greeted with a familiar silence and the Glasers braced themselves for another rejection. In a rare moment of hope for the Glasers, a parent raised his hand and asked: 'When can your son come and play?'