World AIDS Day 2008: Lead — Empower — Deliver

red_ribbonThis year, which marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, also marks a major milestone in the long struggle against this disease. Well over 3 million people in low- and middle-income countries are now receiving life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy. Such an achievement was unthinkable 20 years ago, when the world was just beginning to comprehend the significance of this disease and its catastrophic impact on individuals, families, and societies.

— Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the world began recognizing AIDS on an international level with the commemoration of World AIDS Day. Harder still to believe how many millions of people are still suffering the effects of this disease. Some facts from the UNAIDS:

  • An estimated 33 million people [30.3 – 36.1 million] were living with HIV in 2007. There were 2.7 million [2.2 – 3.2 million] new HIV infections and 2 million [1.8 – 2.3 million] AIDS-related deaths last year.
  • The percentage of pregnant women living with HIV who received antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission increased from 9% in 2004 to 33% in 2007.
  • The latest data collected from 64 countries indicate that fewer than 40% of young people have basic information about HIV.
  • Discrimination remains a barrier to prevention access for most at risk populations; while conversely, countries which protect these populations from discrimination tend to reach more of them with HIV prevention programmes.
  • The number of new HIV infections continues to outstrip the advances made in treatment numbers—for every two people put on antiretroviral drugs, another five become newly infected.
  • Children are not benefiting equally as adults. In sub-Saharan Africa, children living with HIV are about one third as likely to receive antiretroviral therapy as adults.
  • Tuberculosis remains a leading cause of death for people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Despite the availability of affordable treatments for tuberculosis, only 32% of TB cases in people living with HIV received both antiretroviral and anti-tuberculosis drugs—the greatest need for dual treatment is in sub-Saharan Africa.

With all the overwhelming problems in the world today, this one may seem distant to you if you don’t personally know anyone affected by AIDS. And that’s part of the shameful legacy of the Bush Administration, in my opinion. Whereas the United States has always been a nation of people who helped other nations struggling with challenges such as AIDS, we have now become a nation too worried about the state of our own house to be able to turn our attention elsewhere.

I feel incredibly blessed to have in my family my cousin “Pete.” Retired from the world of international relations, Pete has turned his considerable talents (and connections) to helping those around the world who are most helpless to fight against AIDS.  In 2006, he wrote this:

Commitment to the equal value of each life on this planet prompts “can do” rather than “not possible” responses. We must reverse brain drain and build critically needed corps of health care workers in the developing world. People in developing countries, in addition to needing more clinics, need adequate food and clean water. The U.N. estimates are that only 66 cents per person per day would provide what is necessary.

On this World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, it is “time to deliver” — not only to prevent the spread and care for those living with HIV/AIDS, but to achieve the good of which we are capable. Howard Zinn’s credo is immune-enhancing: “To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Our justified outrage and response become an invitation to human fulfillment for all. When we care for others, we care for ourselves.

Pete has worked a great deal to help Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK). If you’d like to know more about WOFAK, send me an email and I will put you in touch.

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