World AIDS Day is tomorrow. This disease has taken the lives of more than 22 million men, women, and children worldwide. Another 42 million people are currently infected. An estimated 14,000 more people are infected every day, mostly in the 15-24 age group. In the United States alone, over 1 million people are living with HIV with 40,000 new infections each year.
AIDS has ceased to be a “Gay disease” but the GLBT community should continue to consider it a “Gay issue.” Our community was the first to see the ravages of the epidemic and continues to be one of the hardest hit. Yet, this is an issue that our nation seems to have become bored with and put aside.
Our world has made great progress in slowing the effects of the disease, allowing some of those infected to live longer lives. Still, we must not forget that this disease has claimed far more lives than the holocaust and has no end in sight. At the current rate of infection, nearly every person in Africa will be infected in only a few short years. It is unthinkable to allow an entire continent of people to die of a disease with no cure.
President Bush continues to promote an outdated abstinence only approach to avoiding STDs. While we are all aware that abstinence is the only 100% effective approach, it is not always the most appealing. Condoms may not be perfect, but they are the most effective way of preventing the spread of disease among sexually active people and should be promoted heavily.
Our congress (I won’t blame either party because both are guilty) has failed to adequately fund AIDS research and prevention efforts. The Ryan White CARE Act expired well over a year ago and has yet to be reauthorized. Further, it needs to be updated to reflect changes in the way our nation now approaches and defines the disease.
It was only two generations ago that our country led the way in eradicating polio worldwide. Only one generation ago, smallpox was eradicated largely because of American efforts. I am not saying that we can eradicate HIV in the near future, but US efforts could begin a reduction in new infections.
December 1 is World AIDS Day and we should all make an effort to donate our time and money and help to raise awareness about HIV. But the real point of tomorrow is to remind us to stop for a moment and realize how devastating the disease continues to be. That realization should be enough to drive us all to continue to push for an end to the AIDS epidemic.
Later, I will post a list of helpful resources about how each of us can get involved with the fight against AIDS.