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World AIDS Day

1 December 2009

1 DEC 09 – Today marks the 21st annual World AIDS Day.  It’s a day on which the world reminds itself that just 28 years ago HIV/AIDS was discovered and in that time 25 million people have died as a result of infection.  It’s a day on which governments around the world reiterate their devotion to solving the AIDS epidemic.  It’s a day on which we collectively look to the future for better treatments, a vaccine, or a cure.

Passers-by on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. will notice a 2-story red ribbon adorning the White House today.  The ribbon is now in it’s third year of use; A tradition started with former President George W. Bush, whose devotion to the eradication of AIDS became the standard for all Presidents to follow.

“It is clear that our nation’s investments in HIV/AIDS are having an impact,” said former first lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  If you’re looking for proof of that, look no further than the most recent statistics related to the spread of the disease.  When HIV/AIDS was discovered in 1981, the infection rate grew exponentially.  In recent years, while infections are still on the rise, the number of new infections have begun to level-off.

Number of AIDS infections per year.

The number of people living with HIV has risen from around 8 million in 1990 to 33 million today and the number is still growing. Around 67% of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa where international efforts continue to converge in an attempt to quell the infection.  In North America, 1.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.  With a population of 530 million people in North America, that translates to about 1 in every 528 people carrying the disease.

Twelve years ago, in 1997, Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) and other researchers concluded that AIDS could be destroyed in nearly all areas of the body, save a few “viral reservoirs.”  In the time since, scientists have been working on ways to eliminate or neutralize the disease from these reservoirs.  If ever this goal were to be accomplished, AIDS would be eradicated.

A diagram showing how a laser could possibly cure AIDS

Not long ago the idea of a cure for AIDS seemed more like science fiction and less like a plausible reality.  While the reality of a cure could come at any moment, we can rest assured that it comes closer to reality every day.  Advances in stem cell research, laser technology, nanotechnology, and bone marrow transplants are allowing scientists to conceive and achieve what seemed impossible just a few years ago.

The Obama administration recently pumped 10 billion dollars into various health related projects, not the least of which being the search for a cure to HIV and AIDS.  In addition, his administration has finally lifted a long-held ban on visitors to the US who carry the disease.  Add to this the announcement yesterday that the 2012 International Aids Conference will be held in Washington D.C. and it begins to become clear that President Obama intends to take this epidemic very seriously.  However, not everyone agrees that the President is doing all he can in the fight.

Man cured of HIV via bone marrow transplant

The Obama administration is facing critisism from global AIDS and Africa solidarity organizations.  These organizations have graded the President’s performance in the fight against AIDS and awarded him with a “D+.”

“We are disappointed to report that on his first World AIDS Day in office, President Obama has not made good on his promises to increase funding for effective, life saving programs to fight AIDS around the world.” said Asia Russell, Health GAP Director of International Policy.

President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief

Secretary Clinton responded; “Our investments in PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and overall global health have made a positive difference and we will continue our support, but we have to do more.  We have to make sure that our programs foster conditions that improve people’s lives and in turn promote stability, prosperity, and security. In this time of very tight budgets in our own government and our own people suffering from unemployment, from other kinds of cutbacks in services, we have to do more even here at home.  We’ve seen some of the results of the cutbacks that are happening at the state and local level.  So while we’re talking about our commitment internationally, let’s not forget our fellow citizens who are suffering right now.”

Regardless of who you agree with, one thing is certain.  If we can’t slow or stop the spread of HIV/AIDS with the backing of billions of dollars, we must make the extra effort to control the spread on an personal level.  In the end, the spread of disease rests upon the shoulders of each individual.  It’s only though education and personal responsibility that such lofty goals are attained.

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