Today, December 1, is the 27th annual observance of World AIDS Day.
Since that first year, when I dropped a few pounds in the collection can at the curtain call of a play in London, I’ve marked the anniversary.
The second year I coordinated a fundraising event. Some years I went to a special Mass or memorial service. Other years I simply made note of it and went about my business.
This year I’ll be part of a reading and panel discussion at Women & Children First bookstore in Chicago about the generation gap in the AIDS community. This reflection on Huffington Post last week will give you an idea of what that means in terms of fighting the epidemic.
The theme for World AIDS Day this year is “Focus, Partner, Achieve”.
This year the epidemic looks like this:
1.2 million people in the US are living with HIV; 14% don’t know they’re infected.
The annual number of new infections has held steady for 10 years: 50,000/year.
13,000 people with AIDS in the US will die this year.
The African-American community – particularly men who have sex with men – is disproportionately affected.
So, how do we follow the theme for this year?
Focus: Target education and prevention efforts to the communities most at risk: African-Americans and young people 13-24
Partner: Work with faith communities, schools, government agencies and nonprofit organizations to reach those communities.
Achieve: Make an AIDS-free generation our goal.
What does all that mean?
It means that 30+ years into the epidemic, there’s a hell of a lot of work to do, in the US and around the world.
It means we have to reach out to make sure that every conversation- whether it’s about education, affordable housing, access to healthcare, affordable medications, anti-discrimination laws, aging – includes a recognition of how those issues impact people living with HIV, and those at risk of infection.
There is no cure. There is no vaccine. But unlike the early days, we have powerful tools: scientific knowledge, antiretroviral drugs, PReP (Truvada, which can effectively protect against infection).
That’s where reaching out to partner with others is important. The drugs won’t help you if you don’t know about them. They won’t help if you can’t afford them. It’s hard to keep to a regimen if you’re living in a homeless shelter. Unpredictable health won’t help you keep a job.
We’ve come a long way in 30+ years, but there is such a long way to go.
And I for one would like to see a day when, on December 1, people have to be reminded of what the world was like before AIDS was eradicated.
And the only way we do that is by working together, every day.
For more information on HIV, AIDS and what you can do to help: