Tuesday, December 2, 2008

World AIDS Day: where lies the future?

December 1st is World AIDS Day -- and I know it's the 2nd of the month on this side of the dateline, but I delayed posting about it until today, because about 95% of readers are on t'other side of that dateline!

There's a slogan: "Fight AIDS, not people with AIDS." This is particularly poignant when one remembers that AIDS is not merely an African problem (though it's anguishingly true that most cases of the disease are found there). AIDS is a problem in every part of the world; and in some countries it's lately been swept under the rug. One need hardly point out the tremendous AIDS problem in the United States --

In the US, little or nothing was done to help infected people, much less the spread of the disease. Why? It's the question which haunts anyone with the brains to think about it, and after the first glance or two into a little research you run headlong into a brick wall:

"In America today, AIDS is virtually a black disease, by any measure," says Phill Wilson, executive director of The Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. Wilson also points out that while many black American leaders and celebrities have embraced the cause of the epidemic's toll in Africa, few have devoted similar energy to the crisis here at home.

And here's the irony: in the public mentality, AIDS remains closely associated with the gay community. Even now, in the minds of many people -- particularly older citizens, and those of ethnic background -- the mention of AIDS pops up images of promiscuous young men; or at least young men who indulged in at least one unwise, probably anonymous sexual act.

This is the burden of stigma that AIDS is still carrying -- at one point, about 20 years ago, I recall it being called the Christians' "dream disease," since it came down on the gay community in particular and sexually active, not to say promiscuous, youth in general.

The irony is that the last US presidential election clearly showed that Afro-American community has a strong bias against the gay community. I have a hunch that the "stigma" of AIDS will be biting hard in the Afro-America because of its gay connotations (be they accurate or not; and they're not), and the punch line to this bad joke is this: AIDS has become a "black disease" in a culture which is fundamentally homophobic.

Homosexuality remains a taboo punishable by gruesome executions in much of Africa, and yet AIDS is a runaway train there. In other words, the connection between the gay community and the spread of AIDS is nebulous these days ...

Yet in the public consciousness the connection lives on; and in hidebound countries where fundamental Christianity is running out of control -- countries such as Nigeria and the United States -- the stigma of AIDS is killing people. A lot of people. Too many people.

Get your head around these statistics:
Black Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for over 50 percent of all new cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That infection rate is eight times the rate of whites. Among women, the numbers are even more shocking--- almost 70 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV-positive women in the United States are black women. Black women are 23 times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than white women, with heterosexual contact being the overwhelming method of infection in black America.

...now, try to figure out why George W. would cut AIDS research and support funding both at home and abroad. It could be argued that America is a rich nation that should be able to look after its sick without needing vast amounts of government funding -- and this is perfectly true. If commerce and industry were to make small donations, the whole financial aspect of the situation would be covered --

Well and good. But the next bombshell knocks you senseless:
Since bird flu starting grabbing international headlines in 2003, fear of a pandemic has swept across the globe and refocused health policies in some countries, including the United States.

In all, 91 people died of avian flu between 2003 and Feb. 13, 2006, according to the World Health Organization. There are no known cases of bird flu being transmitted from human to human, and no known cases of humans becoming infected from eating chicken or other poultry; only those in direct contact with the infected birds appear so far at risk.

During the same period, 9.1 million people were infected with HIV and AIDS, according to UN AIDS and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Now, President Bush has proposed cutting $15 million in AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health, while increasing funds for studying avian flu and bio-terrorism.

And what about poor countries which rely on the trickle-down of charitable handouts from countries whose cups runneth over? Consider this:
Mr. Bush's 2004 budget for the Global Fund, $200 million, actually cuts in half what Congress is likely to do in 2003. Mr. Bush has also found part of the money for his AIDS programs by cutting nearly $500 million from child health, including vaccine programs. Child survival is the biggest loser in the foreign aid budget — a scandalous way to finance AIDS initiatives. With the budget dominated by defense spending and huge tax cuts for the wealthy, the White House should not be forcing the babies of Africa to pay for their parents' AIDS drugs." 2.17.03

The world itself has become sick during the last decade, and its symptoms are greed, stupidity, prejudice, ignorance, and hate. These are the qualities which are holding this world back; we can't step into any kind of a positive future until we let them go.

We must find a way to embrace all people, all cultures, all faiths, all strains of romantic affiliation, as being not merely tolerable and acceptable, but natural. We are as nature designed us: many colors, rich and poor, gay and straight, fat and thin, genius and dim, talented and not. Mother Nature doesn't play favorites -- we're all born, and we take our chances! It's what people do that segregates us. It's the class systems, the fundamental "true faith" religions, the politics of greed, and the ignorance, stupidity and prejudice of senior politicians, which keeps alive the old inequities, injustices, and fuels the hate which jeopardizes the future for us all.



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