Is it any wonder?

Since the AIDS epidemic began, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 79.3 million people have become infected with HIV and 36.3 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.  Education in the practice(s) of safer sex to prevent transmission of the virus, and new medicines, particularly antiretroviral therapies, have reduced the number of AIDS deaths by a remarkable 64% per year since they reached their global peak in 2004, and yet The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that in 2020, 37.7 million people were living with AIDS and about 1.5 million people became newly infected.

AIDS and the HIV virus which causes it flourishes in places affected by poverty and inequality.  The intersection of HIV/AIDS and socio-economic inequality is well documented.  Where the most vulnerable group used to be gay white men historically, in the new millennium it is increasingly the poor, women, and communities of color that are bearing the brunt of the epidemic.

WAD-2021

It is no surprise, then, that the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day — today, December 1st — is “Ending the HIV Epidemic:  Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice.”

World AIDS Day was first observed in 1988.  Each year, governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals across the planet focus attention on the ongoing HIV pandemic — to increase HIV awareness and knowledge (to decrease and one day curtail its spread), speak-out against HIV stigma and ignorance (which hampers containment and eradication of the virus), and call for an increased response that moves humanity toward bringing an end to HIV/AIDS throughout the world.  It is particularly germane in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

People living with HIV experience more severe outcomes, including death, from COVID-19 than people not living with HIV, according to the 2020 UNAIDS Global Update.  The uneven availability of COVID-19 vaccines in the developing world has a direct impact on the fight to reduce AIDS-related deaths as vaccines have not become accessible to many HIV patients — as of July 2021, less than 3% of people living in Africa had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, despite Sub-Saharan Africa being home to 67% of people living with HIV.

If Africa seems a world away, then focus on the 1.2 million Americans infected with HIV, as of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s HIV Surveillance Report, 2019, vol.32., available at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/library/reports/hiv-surveillance.html, published in May of 2021.  Studies from England and South Africa have found that the risk of dying from COVID-19 among people with HIV was double that of the general population, as reported by UNAIDS, who add that, "COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions disrupted HIV testing and in many countries led to steep drops in diagnoses and referrals to HIV treatment.”  It becomes rather obvious then that addressing the COVID-19 crisis is essential to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

We live in a world where I can guarantee you know at least one person with HIV/AIDS.  If it's not me, it is someone at work or school, in your apartment building, or on your block.  They may not be as open and up-front (and in your face) about their HIV status as I am, and that is no fault of their own — the prejudice and ignorance surrounding this disease are still among the greatest hurdles to eradicating it.  Still, we must try.  We must try for the many, too many, who were not as lucky as me to receive treatments that saved my life.  We must try for the as yet uninfected who are at greater risk simply because of their gender, ethnicity, or national origin.  We must try as a matter of global justice.

We must try because, according to WHO, "Division, disparity and disregard for human rights are among the failures that allowed HIV to become and remain a global health crisis. Now, COVID-19 is exacerbating inequities and disruptions to services, making the lives of many people living with HIV more challenging."


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