Let’s not forget those left behind in modern AIDS achievements

aidsquilt

I am by no means steeped in the literature behind AIDS research, activism, or outreach, so take this all with the grain of a casual consumer of relevant headlines outside my interest area. But this strikes me as good news for today’s World AIDS Day:

On World AIDS Day today, activists are celebrating what they see as a pretty major milestone in efforts to combat the deadly virus —for the first time in the past year, the number of HIV patients who started receiving medication was greater than those newly infected with the virus, according to the ONE Campaign.

That marks a “tipping point” in global efforts to fight a disease that’s killed about 40 million people worldwide since it was first reported a little more than 30 years ago, the campaign declared Monday morning. As a “tipping point” indicates, that also means more progress is still needed.

Though global funding for HIV/AIDS hit an all-time high of $19.1 billion in 2013, that’s still at least $3 billion less than what UNAIDS says is needed each year to control the virus. And HIV is increasingly concentrated among harder-to-reach populations, including men who have sex with men, female sex workers, injection drug users and adolescent girls, according to the report.

The above comes from Jason Millman. From a methodological standpoint I appreciate the basic structure of these first three paragraphs, because with most health crisis there is always a dark side to whatever good news dominates the news cycle.

So potentially life-saving medication for HIV patients is progressing, which is certainly welcome. However, those left-behind in the headlines are populations that are more difficult to reach, are acutally being infected at higher rates, and include those that continue to encounter financial and social obstacles to diagnosis and treatment. Thus I would write that, for whatever achievements the collective AIDS movement has collected, their work requires even more vital persistence.

This darker lining was highlighted in my mind thanks to a person I know who came of age during the ’80s, an activist of many things but for which AIDS and LGBT issues is prominently included. One night not too long ago he surprised me with his vehemence towards a local celebration recognizing the LGBT community. As a said I’m not well-steeped in AIDS activism and research, so I wasn’t even aware of the reason girding his justification, a reason that Millman details later in his piece when he reports that “[…]diagnoses attributable to male-to-male sexual contact saw increases for nearly every group, with those 13-24 years old recording the largest increase (133 percent) of any group.” To the mind of this person I know the LGBT community is, in effect, committing an unconscionable mass-forgetting over gay men who are continuing to die during a time of unprecedented social acceptance.

I didn’t tell this person at the time but afterward I felt guilty for my own ignorance. One of my early memories of being raised by mom was of her various AIDS outreach campaigns in her capacity as an assistant professor at our local community college. This was still during a time when trying to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS was largely subversive — especially in a closeted community moored to the previous generation’s sexual-orientation traditionalism. I still remember weeping at strangers names being read on a too-quiet microphone when she took me to see a traveling version of the AIDS quilt. In other words, I was raised to know that those lives being lost mattered. Somewhere along the way I’ve done a bit of my own mass-forgetting towards that fact, and for that I’m deeply sorry. It won’t happen again.

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