May 31, 2012
Poorer regions of the world have never been given so much money and support to combat the spread of HIV as during the last ten years, yet despite massive financial back-up for health initiatives, HIV prevalence and rates of infection are increasing in those areas and not shrinking! As a result, while the epidemic is weaker in terms of global statistics; it is expanding and intensifying in specific areas.
Whilst natural disasters and conflicts obviously play a part, there's clearly something seriously inhibiting aid distribution and implementation systems. Why there isn't worldwide outrage and urgent investigation is baffling. Are hundreds of thousands of HIV victims in certain areas being seen as 'collateral damage' until the virus dies a natural death? Where's all the money going and why isn't it achieving results? The following link follows up on the relevant issues far better than I can.
More Information: HIV/AIDS: Global Trends, Global Funds and Delivery Bottlenecks
Unfortunately, it's an enormously complex issue and the worst affected areas are still the poorest. The combined effects of poverty, disease, famine, cultural isolation and economic or political instability, are creating domino effects which prevent the creation of durable health infrastructures. The problem is getting worse as a result. Even so, even in the dark days of colonialism, the most powerful countries in the world never interfered in the affairs of other countries as much as they do now. So why haven't the global powers been able to exert enough pressure on governments and give the right sort of support, to create self-sufficient health systems which can control the spread of HIV?
My theory is that the answer lies in global politics. Where there's a will, there's a way and if the world pulled together the problem (if not the disease) could be solved in no time. The real problem is that conflicting interests mean that there's just not enough will and despite the millions poured into combating HIV, the disease is still revealing alarming spikes. The world should be shocked but unfortunately it isn't ... HIV is almost yesterday's news!
I've always suspected that in general, politicians and religious leaders are the most powerful enemies of people with HIV. The former can be unpredictable, can be changed every few years and can sell their grandmothers to gain votes. The latter are so steeped in their own sense of tradition and belief in their own doctrine, that progressive or creative dialogue becomes very difficult. After all, when you can fall back on the word of God, who needs a debate!
I realise that I'm treading on thin ice here. Both religion and politics are such sensitive subjects that people can quickly become angry if one group or the other is being seen to be demonised. I am speaking simplistically and I am using generalisations; in a blog article how could I otherwise? I'm not a theologian or a political scientist, but as someone with HIV, I do fear for the future.
It doesn't really matter what political colour you are, in the modern world, first and foremost you have to deal with a society based on money and balance sheets. Love for your fellow man becomes relevant only if you have the time and the finance. By definition, in virtually every country across the world, both leaders of society and leaders of faith, try to hold onto the influence and the power they have to change or maintain laws both secular and religious. Whatever decisions they make will be dependent on what they perceive will gain them votes. This is not a sign of amorality; it's just the nature of the beast. New politicians with a social or liberal vision tend to have the edges of their enthusiasm quickly rubbed off by reality and in the end the political colour spectrum becomes mainly shades of grey. Little wonder that many a voter is more and more attracted to the fringes of political thought and extremism.
People living with HIV are therefore dependent for their security, peace of mind and medical treatment on the games that their leaders are going to play. It only needs a slight change of public opinion, or a few ciphers on the National Debt to switch tolerance and sympathy to fear and repression. Those public opinion mood swings can be manipulated or responded to, according to the ambitions of what is actually a relatively small number of power brokers. For that reason, people with HIV always have to look over their shoulders to see how the next political decision is going to affect their lives.
More Information: Richard Grenell Hounded From Romney Campaign by Anti-Gay Conservatives
Although we have stood at many crossroads over the thirty-year history of HIV, we seem to be at a crucial point in 2012 and it could go either way. It has never been such a lottery as to whether you can live openly and in reasonable health with HIV. It's a question of where you're born, under what sort of political system you live and what the social circumstances and safety nets are.
Many areas of the world have made huge strides towards acceptance and making good treatment available to all but equally many lands, cultures and political systems refuse to acknowledge the needs of people living with HIV and instead of getting better, it seems to be getting worse. What's really worrying is the fact that the most powerful democracy in the world could soon turn the clock back decades, if the promises of candidate Republicans are to be believed. If it could happen in the USA, where can't it happen?
The fact is, the double-edged sword of Damocles is swinging over our heads again. There's a financial crisis squeezing every last cent out of public support systems and there's a cynical, new morality which threatens to associate HIV with everything to do with sexual depravity, drug addiction and un-religious activities. When parents in Western countries can, unashamedly and unpunished, twitter that they would kill their children if they turn out to be gay, you know that the moral pendulum is turning against us.
More Information: 100 Real Tweets from Homophobes Who Would Murder Their Gay Child
In industrialized societies we could very soon find ourselves on the wrong side of the morality fence yet again and thus undeserving of either sympathy or the necessary medical and social support that we've learned to feel is our right. The fact that the agenda is being promoted by elements of our own political structures to gain votes and by the religious hierarchy, to protect marriage and church attendance, is a terrifying prospect that people with HIV in other areas of the world are long used to.
It's a strange situation where the split between left and right, or centre and far right, is widening dramatically and splitting countries into distinct and different social belief structures. From the outside, the USA seems more than ever like two separate nations under one flag with polarized views, forcing politicians to take ever greater risks with whom they target to push their agendas.
The "If you're not with us, you're against us" feeling has spread to all corners of society and not just in the States. Thanks again George W! The fact that gay marriage and abortion have become such huge topics in the current American political arena has little to do with the morality of the issue and much more with pandering to populism in order to win elections.
It's not only the States of course: if it were, we might still feel reasonably optimistic about the future for people with HIV. In Russia and Eastern Europe, the gay agenda has also hit the headlines with state-encouraged, city mayors and councils passing laws to ban the very mention of homosexuality in schools, or in public. How do they think this will help control the spread of HIV in those lands! Pride marches are regularly disrupted and people are beaten up by officially-backed thugs and openly stating your sexuality, never mind your health status, means stigmatism and an immediate block on any career or social prospects. The following link shows how parts of the USA may not be so far behind.
More Information: Rep. Zachary Wyatt: I Am a Proud Gay Man
It's not only the former Soviet states; even Western Europe is seeing a worrying increase in attacks on LGBT people. It was once briefly okay to walk hand in hand through the streets of Dutch cities with your same-sex partner. Nowadays, most people think twice because of the fear of abuse or physical assault. It's all part of the polarization of society worldwide and may be due to economic hard times; or a reaction to what to some people will see as the "Gaga factor" (an over-playing of the gay tolerance hand); or worried religions and religion-based political parties, that fear that because of that tolerance, empty churches are a symbol of the breakdown of society.
Strangely enough, the most progress in Europe has been made by countries with a very strong Catholic tradition. Spain and Portugal have both legalised gay marriage and that is reflected by what seems on the surface to be increased tolerance in South America. However, all these countries are now facing unbelievable economic pressures stemming from the world crisis. Brazil and Argentina have seen their economies grow and the standard of living with it and that has led to more tolerance of minorities but the question is, how long will it last?
Even China has moved ever so slightly towards greater tolerance of LGBT people and has certainly developed a more pragmatic attitude towards HIV. India too and again, this may be directly due to an increased economic growth and feeling of well-being amongst its people and political structures, who don't feel so much the need to find scapegoats.
More Information: Global AIDS Policy in the Age of Obama
The most alarming trends are in Africa and the Middle East. The largest numbers of people with HIV in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa and yet thankfully LGBT people are not openly blamed for the epidemic because it is far more widespread amongst the heterosexual population. The problem there seems to stem from religion.
In the Islamic countries of Africa, homosexuality and HIV are often taboo subjects, with strict and severe laws which suppress homosexuality as much as possible. Although difficult to understand, at least this is consistent with what most people would expect from an Islamic state.
More Information: Islam and Homosexuality: Straight but Narrow
The Christian countries of Africa (with the possible exception of South Africa) have recently taken an alarmingly hard line regarding LGBT people and we've all read the horrific stories of deaths, beatings and long imprisonment. You only need to be suspected of being gay to be in fear of your life. Part of the blame has to go to a significant number of American, Christian evangelists who since the eighties have used Africa as a base for the spreading of fundamentalist Christian doctrines. They have found their way into the corridors of power and shameful as it may sound, have encouraged law makers to try to wipe out homosexuality completely, with the results that can be seen every day in the media.
Hate feeds hate as far as I'm concerned and it can become contagious. It doesn't bother me which political philosophy, or faith based doctrine you come from, you do not have the right to spread hatred about people who believe differently; the consequences are often a matter of life and death.
More Information: NC Pastor Apologizes for Encouraging Violence Toward Gay Children
Islam is a far more complex matter. Removing dictators doesn't lift the yoke from LGBT people. Iraq, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have recently removed their oppressive leaders but the day to day situation for LGBT people and people living with HIV has likely become worse not better. When a deeply rooted system is changed, it creates a vacuum into which come disparate groups who then try to gain power for themselves. It's a natural process but not one that makes it easy for enlightened thinkers.
Hopefully, the more fundamentalist brands of Islam will not spread to every country in the region. The Sharia laws do not look kindly of sexual difference. We must hope for regimes that are more tolerant and more democratic but social media or not, don't expect life for people with HIV (from whatever cause) to get any better soon in those lands.
More Information: Iran Reportedly Hangs Gay Man
Countries here in Western Europe also have large Islamic populations and like it or not, Islam does have an influence on political thought and action in western democracies. Not so long ago in the Netherlands, an Imam called for all homosexuals to be taken up to the top floor of the highest building and be thrown head first to the ground. Is he in jail, or has he been punished for hate crimes? No sir, this is a tolerant land with a freedom of speech, and long may that continue. Then again, even radical Islamic residents are also voters; draw your own conclusions.
This one example shows that even western democracies can't afford to look at the situation simplistically; it's far more complex than you may think. For every Islamic community in France, or Germany, or the UK, there's an opposing far-right movement, sworn to oppose the so-called 'Islamisation' of western society. It can only end in tears you might think, and certainly for people with HIV who are targeted by both movements.
To my mind, you can't separate the moral influences on life with HIV from the political because moral attitudes determine political responses (and vice versa) and we need the finances to support the search for a cure and the relief of the consequences of HIV. Those finances can come partly via donations and charities but the vast majority comes from governments and the pharmaceutical industry and as with any business, the aim is to make profits. If profit margins are squeezed in an economic crisis, we are reliant on the good will of politicians to keep the ball rolling so to speak. They will be giving out money with no immediate returns. Cynically, the longer they keep people alive with efficient HIV treatment, the more of a burden those people are on the economy.
It will always be a temptation to cut research funding and support systems, and all over the world at the moment that's exactly what's happening. This leads to painful headlines about people who can't afford their medication, or extra treatment; or the medication is just not available; or a free needle service is cut, leading to cross-infection for drug users; you know the story. I wonder if this sort of financial cutting back doesn't lead to more costs for the health services in the long run, as more people become unnecessarily sick.
More Information: The HIV/AIDS Epidemic In Africa: Implications For U.S. Policy
When you also throw moral and religious ethics into the mix, it's not hard to see the consequences for people trying to live as productive lives as possible with HIV. When those religious and moral overtones are added to political election campaigns, you just know it's going to get nasty. As much as celebrities like Gaga and the 'It Gets Better' campaign drum up worldwide publicity for tolerance and acceptance, there are far more people following their own agendas by undermining that goodwill and playing on people's fears. As history shows, when a society becomes fearful, it turns on its minorities (just ask the Jews, displaced people of African origin, the Native Americans, or the indigenous populations of most ex-colonial countries across the world).
People with HIV have to find their niche in history and as thirty-year-old newbies to the history books, that's a confusing mission. Undoubtedly, most of the world will see LGBT people as essential components of the HIV story, despite the fact that they're vastly outnumbered by the heterosexual HIV-positive populations of much of the rest of the world. Other categories such as drug abusers may be completely lost in future history books.
The problem is that HIV is and always will be associated with sex. This gives the politicians and theologians their toe holds for action and enables them to defend non-existent, or invented values by accusing LBGT people of bringing down the institutions of morality that have long since disappeared in the real world. Nobody ever accuses heterosexuals of destroying marriage and yet look at the divorce statistics across the entire planet! Even Islam makes divorce easy, although many women don't have a say in it!
We run the risk of being marginalised at best and demonised at worst but either way, the future quality of life for people living with HIV will probably not improve while the finances and political will are being choked by circumstances. Let's hope that the 'cure' will emerge out of the gloom and re-energise the social concern for HIV. Whether that will do anything for people currently living with the virus, remains to be seen. It is highly unlikely that any cure will work retrospectively, so once again we'll be relying on political and public good will to maintain current levels of care.
Much more information on this subject can be found by following the links below: