by Regan Hofmann in POZ Magazine
When I talk about the gravity of the AIDS pandemic, I feel a little like Al Gore. Or Chicken Little. I have become the person no one wants to sit next to at a dinner party.
The planet is melting I say. The sky is falling. AIDS is spreading. It is not just an African disease. It is in India, in China, in Central and South America, in Russia, the Pacific Rim and all over the United States. In Kansas. Iowa. South Carolina. It could be in your body right now.
And in response, I hear well-educated, world-traveled people say things like:
“Is AIDS really still a problem? I thought they’d cured that by now.”
“Well, I’m not worried about it because only poor blacks and the gays get AIDS.”
“Well, I don’t have to worry because I am heterosexual and married. And monogamous.” (The last phrase is often offered emphatically—a clear indication there’s some doubt about that.)
And, two of my favorites:
“Perhaps AIDS is just the planet’s way of self-correcting overpopulation in places where there are so many people that they are starving to death. Maybe it’s a good thing.” (Um, because dying from AIDS is preferable to starving to death? I see.)
“I’m glad it’s spreading. Those people need to be killed for being promiscuous and for using drugs.”
Really. This is what we’re up against. And why it’s increasingly hard to get the political and financial capital we need to fight a disease that is outpacing our ability to stop it. And why in the midst of a global recession we must fight that much harder to come up with the cash to crush it.
Nearly 30 years into one of the worst pandemics in recorded human history (topped only in severity by the Black Death), we continue to try to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in a world where everyone thinks it’s someone else’s disease—until it happens to them, their partner, their parent or their child. In a world where the truth and information about the disease don’t get properly spread because governments, parents, school boards and churches don’t let us talk plainly and openly about sex. Which is something one must do when discussing how to avoid a—100 percent preventable mind you—sexually transmitted infection.
We’re fighting one of the nastiest diseases ever in a time when everyone’s tired of hearing about that disease, in a moment when people are ready to put the money earmarked for HIV/AIDS somewhere else. But just because we’re over AIDS doesn’t mean it’s over. In fact, turning our back on AIDS now ensures it will make the Black Death look like a summer cold.
The brightest, richest, fiercest, most dedicated people have been stymied by HIV for three decades. And now, exhausted and exasperated, they’re asked to continue their good work with fewer resources in a climate of ignorance, denial and apathy.
Those are two words that should never be joined at the hip: AIDS and apathy.
How anyone could be apathetic about more than 25 million people buried six feet under is beyond me. Those who are indifferent to the 33 million people roaming the seven continents harboring HIV in their bodies—many unaware they are HIV positive, many others aware but not on treatment—should have their global citizenship revoked. And anyone who doesn’t care about the more than 15 million children orphaned by the disease—some with HIV in their own blood, many tossed aside simply because their parents carried the virus—has obviously never stared into the eyes of a child orphaned by AIDS. (Please look at the children on the cover of this issue and those on these pages. Our failure to support the fight will likely render them new statistics.)
The numbers are so overwhelming that they lead the very people who have led the fight against AIDS to cry “Uncle!”
For every person put on treatment, 2.5 people become newly infected, according to UNAIDS.