World AIDS Day 2012: What Happened to AIDS?

World AIDS Day 2012: What Happened to AIDS?

Today is World AIDS Day, yet you won’t find a story about HIV/AIDS on the front page of the New York Times. In face, aside from the occasional red ribbon posted in solidarity as a profile photo on Facebook, it seems that HIV/AIDS is simply no longer news. After all, the disease has shifted from being a terminal disease to a chronic illness for most people living with HIV in the world’s industrialized nations,  doctors have managed to completely cure AIDS in the case of one extraordinary patient, and the disease can now be successfully be prevented by having HIV-negative people take daily anti-retroviral drugs as a form of “pre-exposure prophylaxis.

From the perspective of a comfortable kitchen table in South Philadelphia, where I sit typing this post during a break from attending an annual conference of the African Studies Association, AIDS no longer seems a deadly threat, no longer a cause for the type of radical action undertaken by organizations such as ACT-UP in the early days of the epidemic. Do we even still need a World AIDS Day?

The somewhat surprising answer to that question lies far from a kitchen table in Philadelphia, or the front page of the New York Times. We find it only on the front lines of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, in the slums of Kibera, in the drug treatment clinics of Kabul,in the crowded hospitals of Brazil. Here, we begin to see a different face of HIV/AIDS, one defined by crippling levels of poverty, high levels of gender and income inequality, and their associated barriers to adequate prevention and treatment options.

In fact, AIDS cases continue to rise dramatically in many places, including some of the world’s most populous nations such as China, challenging global prevention efforts.  On the African continent, which has born the vast majority of the burden of HIV/AIDS, gains in prevention and treatment efforts made by countries such as Uganda have recently been eroded, reversing decades of success. And even in countries where AIDS rates have declined, such as Zimbabwe, recent scholarship suggests that this decline is tied not only to successful prevention efforts, but also to mortality rates.  In other words, many of the Zimbabweans previously counted as people living with HIV have simply died.

Even as the disease continues to expand into a growing, global pandemic, however, funding for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS has declined shockingly, jeopardizing many of the gains made over the past decades. As a result, the World AIDS Campaign reports that

after years of international investment, just when we seem to have the right technologies, drugs, and approaches to keep the epidemic under control, success hangs in the balance.

Even in the United States, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, AIDS patients living in states like Florida are denied adequate treatment, receiving life-saving anti-retroviral drugs only once their immune systems are already severely compromised.

For the 34 million people living with HIV around the world, the 16 million children orphaned by the epidemic, and the many millions more at risk of contracting HIV, reductions in funding are not simply academic: they are a question of life or death. On World AIDS Day 2012, we at Tariro urge you not to forget that the fight against HIV/AIDS has not yet been won. To the contrary, a long, hard road still lies ahead.  Given the recent decline in funding, your donations to organizations working in HIV prevention and treatment are more important than ever.

On the occasion of World AIDS Day, and as we enter the holiday giving season, we therefore ask you to give.  Give to a local AIDS clinic, such as AIDS Care Rochester. Give to The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis. Give to Tariro. Working together, we can continue to ensure that HIV/AIDS remains a global health priority. Together, we can ensure that treatment and prevention options continue to be available to the 99%, not only the 1%. Together, we can continue to make progress in the fight against AIDS.


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