I remember, it was many years ago now, probably in the ‘90s, when I joined my first World Aids Day observance here in Philadelphia. We marched by candlelight from the Gayborhood to the Painted Bride in Old City where we heard people’s stories relating to HIV/AIDS. It was all very moving.
My first encounter with the stigma of HIV was when my friend and lover died in 1982. James wasn’t HIV positive but the police who found him insinuated that he could have died that way. How did they jump to this conclusion? I had a gay porn film in my nightstand.
It wasn’t long before I began to witness the death of so many strangers and friends.
The devastation of families and communities was and still is profoundly moving.
My mother, then a nurse, became my hero through this period of death during the explosion of the AIDS epidemic. She rejected the false and rigorous protocols of the day and reminding others by her actions that the victims of HIV/AIDS were human and needed to be treated with respect and dignity, with comfort, touch and love.
Decades later we are still fighting this dreaded virus which seems to have gained a foothold in another generation and other countries throughout the world.
HIV continues to be a major global public health issue. In 2016, an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV (including 1.8 million children) – with a global HIV prevalence of 0.8% among adults.
Since the start of the epidemic, an estimated 78 million people have become infected with HIV and 35 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. In 2016, 1 million people died globally of AIDS-related illnesses.
The vast majority of people living with HIV are located in low- and middle- income countries, with an estimated 25.5 million living in sub-Saharan Africa. Among this group, 19.4 million are living in East and Southern Africa which saw 44% of new HIV infections globally in 2016.
But what to do? First, “treatment as prevention,” must be made available so that all persons with HIV have access to AFFORDABLE prescription drugs. Currently antiretroviral drugs are tens of thousands of dollars a year and climbing. This is outrageous. HIV treatment is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus.
Those who remain compliant with their meds and are undetectable if HIV in their blood CAN NOT spread HIV; undetectable = untransmittable.
But between the outrageous cost, and the sad fact that 1 out of 8 HIV infected people in this country are unaware of their infection, EDUCATION becomes a must.
Safe sex should not be a stigma in our lesson plans, especially how to protect oneself from the spread of HIV and other STDs. Education must be used especially in helping to wipe out the stigma that is HIV today.
Lastly, PREVENTION needs to be at the forefront of out discussion and plan. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP), when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected, needs to be both readily available and reasonable priced.
May this be our continued goal and prayer for World Aids Day, that we witness the global decline and reversal of the HIV epidemic.