Today I see red. Yup folks, it’s that time of year again. Like every year on December 1st, it’s World AIDS day. This disease has infected over 60 million people worldwide since it was discovered in the 80’s, and currently the highest rates of infection are sound in countries of Central and Southern Africa.
Dealing with HIV/AIDS is very different depending on the place in the world you’re in. The challenges faced in developing countries very much differ from the challenges in the developed world, and because I am most familiar with my own cultural context, that is what I will stick to. (Not to take away from the aspects of the struggle I won’t talk about, but I’m really no authority on them. If you want to find out more, here is an interesting article by Richard Parker PhD discussing the global pandemic, structural inequalities and the politics of international health.)
I came across this very moving article in my Facebook news feed, and it really made me think. Blogger Michael Specter discusses what he feels is a disturbing trend among the new generation that, unlike him, hadn’t experienced the AIDS epidemic at its height in the 80’s: ” (…) the people on the street were dying. The Castro was lined with thirty-year-old men who walked, when they could, with canes or by leaning on the arms of their slightly healthier lovers and friends. Wheelchairs filled the sidewalks. San Francisco had become a city of cadavers.”
Now it’s not strictly a gay man’s disease (there is no magical gene inside the virus that differentiates between different sexual orientations, capisce?), but it is true that gay men are disproportionally at risk for infection. But as Specter puts it: “What twenty-year-old man, enjoying his first moments of sexual adventure, is going to be scared because, ten years before he was born, people like me saw gay men writhe and vomit and die on the streets where he now stands?” Young people are not as careful about STI’s as they used to be when AIDS was still a more visible issue. There is a stigma around this particular disease (but also around STI’s in general) that constantly pushes it off the table of information we should be feeding to the public.
But at the heart of the problem lies misinformation and a lack of education, and (as per usual) the disenfranchised, minorities, poor people, non-heterosexuals are the most at risk: “there is little public funding available to teach young gay African-American men how to have sex with each other safely”. And as the Times reports here, more young gay men are having unprotected (anal) sex, and less are getting tested for HIV. (And tbh this trend seems to be rising among straight people as far as I’ve been told).
THIS IS A PROBLEM. People that are HIV-seropositive in the developed world mostly have access to antiretroviral drug treatment that can prolong their lives for years, decades even. We don’t see people dying in the streets anymore. But this doesn’t make HIV less of a serious disease. Antiretroviral therapy is strenuous. Living with HIV is permanent. People, especially those most at risk, need to be educated and have access to preventive methods.
Now take a moment to commemorate the lives unnecessarily lost to this disease, the loved ones left behind, the people living with it and dying from it today. And when you’re done, grab the nearest pack of condoms (or go buy one / get free ones from your nearest free clinic) and put them in your purse/in your night stand drawer/under your pillow so that next time you need one, it’ll be within reach. Then, find out about HIV testing resources here and GET TESTED. As many as 21% of people living with HIV in the US don’t know they’re infected.
Here you can find some of the most popular myths around HIV/AIDS debunked (because knowing is everything).
If you want to know more about HIV in the US, you can check out the CDC‘s info page.
(I’m sorry it’s so small, I’m still figuring this wordpress thing out, but clicking enlarges)
Today, I steal my parting words from Rent (the musical):
“Actual Reality! Act up! Fight AIDS!”