Today we mark the 18th World AIDS day. HIV/AIDS is a global pandemic that has killed more than 25 million people, and infected 40 million people, mostly in developing nations. Bare facts, to be read, to pause momentarily over, feeling sad for a few moments before we move on to what ever's next.
But HIV/AIDS has changed the world in terrible ways, but(oddly enough) in good ways too. We have learned so much about viruses, we can talk more openly about protection from STD's, we have a whole new arsenal of medications, and .because our government took so long to respond, the Gay Men's Crisis formed, began protesting and demanding, which eventually pulled the GLBT movement out of the closet and onto the streets. This has affected how I live my life.
There is still, however, so much ignorance and fear and prejudice around HIV/AIDS that the distance we have come is not nearly enough. A neighbor said to me yesterday, "But things are better now, they've got these good drugs it's not as big a deal any more." I hear that more and more lately, and it infuriates me. I try hard to take a deep breath lest I launch into an angry monologue.
You see, I used to be an HIV Counselor and Educator first for a Woman's Health Clinic, then for the Department of Corrections, and while that life may be over, the passion burns as brightly as ever.
I want to point out the miracle of the multiple medications is wonderful, but they are not a cure. They are complex, cause horrendous side effects, and must be taken on an inflexible schedule or the virus will mutate and re-attack harder. I want to say, how would you like to be chronically ill, exhausted, usually poor, and have to take public transportation to dozens of Dr's appointments and clinics, struggle to take 6 or 12 or 20 pills a day each at the correct time, and still have time for a life.
I want to say, most in the developing world who are positive have no meds available at all. They just sicken and die, slowly, worn out, like the generation of gay men we watched die in the 80's, often alone and untended. And most those in developing countries do not have access to condoms, or even honest information, and some of this is because of the policies of our United States Government. Often pregnant women have no access to even the small amount of medication which could raise the odds of having an HIV- baby.
I want to say, we are all in denial-even myself, because I had a blood transfusion last year and "haven't gotten around" to testing, because I know how safe our blood supply is. (It is safe, but not 100%) I want to go out and scream "Stupid" at the younger gay generation who are doing meth and bug chasing, because "so many are positive, I might as well be too" They, too, will lose their generation, only slower, and so much more expensively. And berate the heterosexuals and lesbians who think they are low risk or immune, especially those who are not in a truly monogamous relationship.
I weep for the number of women, especially black and Hispanic women, who are contracting HIV faster than any other segment-often because their boyfriend does drugs, or their lives are so difficult drugs seem like a way out of pain. And I am enraged at our government which treats drug addicts as criminals, and would rather spend our taxes on an unwinnable war, or "just say no" and "abstinence only" campaigns, than on programs that really educate. Or or studies of better ways to treat drug addiction.
I could go on. I think about the HIV+ women I know in prison and miss them -and my work-so deeply. I miss some who have died, and worry about friends who are positive.
I gave pieces of this information to my neighbor, only calmly, factually, leaving the government's role in the spread of AIDS out entirely, so she could hear me, and she thanked me, said I must have been a good teacher because she learned a lot. I thanked her back, and walked home knowing that I still am a good teacher.
And perhaps that's the piece I can do for World AIDS Day all year long, recognize my anger and frustration at the existence of the disease, and the apathy of not only ours, but many governments, and keep on dropping pieces of education whenever possible in my daily life. Until I can find my way back to serving the community in some way or other.