Ken’s Take on the World

Thoughts on World AIDS Day

December 1, 2012 marked another World AIDS Day.  Once again, I had the opportunity to participate in events over the past week relating to WAD.  Each year, I pause to remember those I have known who have lost their valiant battles with this disease.  Since 2002, World AIDS Day has had a special significance as in January of 2002, I tested positive and was diagnosed with AIDS.  I am one of the fortunate ones.  I have a loving and supportive family and wonderful group of friends.  I am also a beneficiary of the tremendous scientific advancements that have served to save and extend my life.

Ken WAD 2012aThis year, I attended the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC.  I met many incredible people who are true leaders and advocates in the fight against HIV and AIDS.  This year was the first IAC to be held in the United States since 1990!  The event was remarkable because it was the first time a person who has been cured of HIV was introduced.  The event also highlighted other great strides that give hope and promise that HIV will become a chronic, manageable condition instead of the virtual death sentence that was the case in the first 10 to 15 years of the epidemic.  Also, evidence was presented about the benefits of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and that people with suppressed HIV viral loads have a greatly reduced risk of transmitting the virus.

In contrast to all of the hopeful information that was shared at the IAC, some troubling issues were raised.  One person is infected with HIV in the US every nine-and-a-half minutes.  One-in-five people, or 20% of those infected, are unaware of their HIV status.  Among Americans who are diagnosed with HIV only one-quarter have their viral load suppressed.  The AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) still has people on waiting lists for financial support for HIV medications.  A number of states have reduced an individual’s income level required to be eligible for ADAP support.  Criminalization and stigma continue to have a negative impact on HIV testing and prevention efforts.

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has stated a goal of achieving zero new HIV infections by 2015.  In order for these goals to be realized there must be improvements made to the issues identified above.  We currently have the tools necessary to eliminate new infections and we need to generate the interest in implementing proven strategies to make this happen.

This brings me to this year’s WAD events that I participated in.  This year I noticed that at various events, a minority of participants were actually HIV positive.  A similar, relatively small, number were gay men.  Considering the impact that HIV has among men who have sex with men, I was disappointed.  If we are going to reduce the rates of HIV infection in this population to be consistent with the goals of Secretary Clinton, a significant ramp-up of education and prevention efforts will have to occur in order for this to happen.

I know this will require folks, like me, who have been living with HIV, to stand up and speak out.  It requires people to have personal courage and a desire to erase the stigma associated with HIV.  It will require people to get tested for HIV and to be adherent to medications that will suppress the virus.  It will require pharmaceutical companies and the government to ensure that these medications are made available to everyone who needs them and that they will be affordable.  It will require the repeal of criminal statutes that penalize those who are known to be infected with HIV.  It will require a commitment from policy-makers, patients, people who are at high-risk for HIV infection, educators, activists, healthcare workers and business leaders to make this happen.

In the 1980’s, as this new epidemic was unfolding, it was activists who demanded changes to the status quo.  The time has come for these activists, along with a new generation of activists and allies, to come together and demand the changes necessary to make HIV and AIDS a thing that is discussed in history textbooks.  It can happen.  It must happen.  HIV will lose.  But, only if we, as a nation, come together and commit to an end of AIDS!


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Yes! You are right! I love your purpose.

Comment by theanxiouschild

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