The first case of AIDS was reported on June 5, 1981 in Los Angeles. Back then, it was only identified as Pneumocystis pneumonia, a form of a compromised immune system that, while wasn’t HIV/ AIDS, indicated an immunocompromised patient who had no real reason to be sick. Since that day in 1981, an estimated 25-30 million people have died from the virus and the current worldwide estimate of people living with HIV is 33.3 million. 15.9 million of those people are women, 2.5 million children. In 2009, an average of 2.2 million people were newly infected with the virus, and while actual deaths from AIDS are declining mainly thanks to antiretroviral treatments and new HIV infections are the lowest they have been since 1997 after peaking in 2005, it is still one of the fastest spreading and most destructive viruses in our world, primarily spreading and infecting in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Thirty years later, as far as advancements and knowledge in the fight against HIV/AIDS goes, there still persists a cultural ignorance and rampant discrimination against those who have the virus. Of course this stems from fear: the same fear that made people think that you could catch it from toilet seats or sneezing. It’s the same fear that kept Ryan White from attending school, the same fear that keeps doctors from treating HIV/AIDS positive patients, the same fear that keeps it in the minds of many as a “gay cancer,” a disease meant to punish, and so on and so on. Of course, fear doesn’t die easily, does it? Instead of toilet seats and gay cancer, fear now takes the form of criminalization against those living with HIV, with 34 states are legally able to bring charges against those with HIV, specifically based on the “threat” of the virus. Many doctors still refuse service to those living with the virus, workplace discrimination still rears its ugly head, and anti-retroviral medication, for all its wonders, is still only financially accessible for some. 8 million people around the globe still wait for anti-retroviral medication, and 5,000 of those are in the states. This doesn’t even touch on the moral stigma surrounding those living the virus, who are shunned outright based on stereotypes invested in colonialism, racism, homophobia, sexism, bias against drug users or sex workers, or just assumption that the virus is the result of personal irresponsibility. These views ultimately leads to nothing more than fear, effectively causing more to silence themselves, not get tested, pass it along unknowingly and worse, cause people to be treated as things to be feared. Now with unemployment in the states at a startlingly high rate and poverty on the upward trend, the real fears have emerged, as The Hill states, that “income inequality, homelessness and long term unemployment will hinder outreach and prevention efforts in the most critical communities, as well as create barriers to effective treatment to those with the virus.”
So as millions acknowledge World AIDS Day as opportunity to celebrate, support, or commemorate, one thing is for certain: we must keep educating ourselves on HIV/AIDS. We must get tested (Planned Parenthood across the states will be offering free HIV testing today), not only for ourselves, but our partners, whomever they may be. We must reject laws, policies, thoughts, or actions based on the fear of HIV/AIDS, because, as that famous Gran Fury sign said so long ago, kissing doesn’t kill, greed and indifference do. We must push for more access, more dedication, more commitment to ending the spread of HIV/AIDS with education and access for all and not just for those who can afford it. We must create a better world where having HIV/AIDS is not something that causes us to fear or hate, but to accept unconditionally. By that, we must create a better world.