What did you do on “World AIDS Day”?
For many of our everyday ambassadors involved in health, social justice, and education initiatives, yesterday was a chance to call attention to some incredible initiatives on HIV testing prevention, and AIDS treatment (like our friends at FACE AIDS!). Please share below with more information on your work if you did celebrate yesterday.
But for a lot of people, World AIDS Day meant very little.
On the one hand there are the 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and their loved ones, for whom “everyday is AIDS day”, meaning that the fight to overcome the disease is a daily struggle. Why make it seem only important on one day?
But on the other end of the spectrum are people who do not celebrate because they genuinely feel unaffected by AIDS. That’s no surprise when, in the world’s most fully-funded health system, 60% of young people don’t know they are infected, and world-wide, most people with HIV do not publicly disclose their HIV status. It is quite possible for you to feel unaffected by AIDS even if someone in your close circles is living with HIV.
This presents a bit of a problem in any democratic system, in which we need the masses to prioritize a policy issue. Understandably, legislators will not commit scarce resources to ending AIDS unless their constituents are demanding it.
But how to create that demand in a world overflowing with causes and concerns, in an economy ready to fall off a “fiscal cliff”, on an issue that feels aloof for so many? How do we make AIDS day everyday, in the sense that we’re taking meaningful action to end the pandemic on a daily basis?
Thankfully, making a difference doesn’t require hitching the next flight to a developing country, organizing mass protests, or creating a documentary about the cause (though I admire our EA friends who are doing so!)
A better place to start – and a place that too often ends up overlooked or skipped past – is simply sharing information. Conversation. Informal discussion.
This may sound basic, but the more I field questions (and misconceptions) about the fact my fiance is living with HIV, the more I have come to understand the challenge of communicating properly about HIV/AIDS. It’s a tragedy and a victory all at once. It’s a disease you never want to have, but can be a manageable illness for many. We want to avoid spreading HIV further but that doesn’t mean waiting for people with HIV to die off. Medicines are expensive but costs are exponentially more expensive when cases go undiagnosed or untreated.
AIDS is not something that can be communicated easily in a single shout, tweet, or even short film.
So this World AIDS Day, I whipped up a script, linked to longer research and articles, to illuminate underlying key threads in the complexity, the ones I have found to resonate with people’s deeper intellect and reason – not just their heartstrings or short term attention.
My hope is that you will not only share this information on FB and Twitter, where a lot of your friends and followers are of similar mindsets, beliefs, and part of similar groups, interests, and industries – but to cross-post on and offline in places where backgrounds may be very different. And don’t just share this weekend; share any day, any time.
Witnessing the end of AIDS will require all hands on deck – far more political support than we currently have, and far more people taking care of their health and their loved ones’ health, via HIV testing and treatment programs.
Once we can upgrade the narrative on HIV/AIDS to resonate with our own common sense, then we can build a future of not only no more AIDS days, but of no more AIDS.
The Good News!
- You can live a full, healthy life with HIV. This is thanks to daily antiretroviral therapy (ART).
- Not only does a person with HIV live healthfully, but so does their sexual partner(s). Studies show that taking ART consistently lowers your their risk of transmitting HIV to a partner by up to 96% (this was ‘Breakthrough of the Year’ by Science Magazine in 2011). This means that these drugs save the life of someone with HIV and will likely render that person incapable of transmitting HIV further.
- When moms with HIV are in prevention programs (which include ART), the chance of passing HIV to their baby drops to 1%. Stopping mom-to-baby transmission would mean the first ever AIDS-free generation since the virus began – and Hillary Clinton just laid out a blueprint for getting there.
- The US government will likely soon encourage all adults, regardless of risk behavior, to be tested for HIV. Make sure you and your loved ones follow up!
The Core Concerns:
- Global Issue – Access to Treatment: While we should celebrate that 8 million people in the world now have access to these drugs, it should disturb us that 7 million still don’t. We know these drugs are effective in saving people with HIV from getting AIDS. They are effective in preventing people with HIV from transmitting HIV further. And they are cheap. We have the solution in our hands and all we need is to implement it, via strengthening health systems of the countries who we support with a minuscule, 0.7% slice of our national budget. Call your Senator and House Rep (and bring it up in conversation with friends!) – ask them to follow through on our global health funding promises that will end AIDS in our lifetime. Read this thorough report by ONE, for more info.
- National Issue – The Fiscal Cliff - This past summer, our Congress was tasked with budget deficit planning. They failed to complete the task, and now we’re faced with a “fiscal cliff” – including more than half a billion dollars ($659 million) being cut from domestic HIV/AIDS programs that fund HIV counseling, testing, nutritional and housing services. These are the services that make those magical medications actually work. No supportive services, no end of AIDS. Read this amazing Atlantic article, for more info. Call your Senator and House Rep (and bring it up in conversation with friends!) – ask them to protect these programs, to make sure the incredible advances we have made in HIV/AIDS treatment and care are not lost.
The Bottom Line: You and I can be part of literally ending the AIDS pandemic. It will require political will, and funding broader health reform (including HIV programs) – and any everyday person can play a part in securing both of these things.
World AIDS Day 2009, Indonesia (RSHS)