Open Arms of Minnesota

World AIDS Day 2008

Another World AIDS Day, December 1, has come and gone. Usually my disappointment about World AIDS Day centers on the lack of media attention the day receives in this country. This year, my disappointment stems from something I actually read in the press.

A few scientists and academicians are saying that the time has come to shift financial resources away from HIV/AIDS to concentrate on other global health issues such as malaria and pneumonia. Some have even suggested that it is time to disband UNAIDS, the United Nations agency charged with addressing the global pandemic. They argue that for many people who have access to lifesaving anti-retroviral (ARV) medications, HIV/AIDS has become a manageable disease. They also suggest that aside from the African continent, HIV/AIDS has probably seen its peak worldwide.

It is, however, too soon to be reducing the world’s financial commitments to the AIDS pandemic and to be dismantling multi-national organizations that are diligently working to prevent new infections and to treat those who are infected with HIV.

Thirty-three million people worldwide – most of them in sub-Saharan Africa – are HIV-positive. Without continuing outreach activities, education and testing, these people could possibly unknowingly spread the virus. Without outreach and education others, who are HIV-negative, may not receive the messages that will help them from becoming infected. And, unlike the developed world, the majority of people with HIV/AIDS on the African continent still do not have access to the ARVs that are making the disease manageable in countries like the United States.

More resources must be dedicated to combat other diseases around the world that sicken and kill many more people than does HIV/AIDS. But this must not be an either/or situation. The solution to reduce deaths due to malaria or pneumonia is not to take funds from HIV/AIDS and apply it to other diseases. It is to fully fund more efforts that will reduce disease and save lives around the globe.

The critics who chose World AIDS Day to call for a realignment of funds to fight global disease believe that there is a scarcity of resources – that there is not enough to combat malaria and HIV/AIDS and other diseases. I don’t believe that. I believe that we have the resources to do more, but we lack the will.

If a day comes when HIV infection rates are falling everywhere in the world; when everyone with HIV/AIDS has access to medications that may keep them alive; when HIV/AIDS has truly become a manageable disease for everyone on the planet; then I will gratefully endorse a realignment of HIV/AIDS funding and a dismantling of AIDS organizations and efforts. But World AIDS Day 2008 is not that day.

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