December 6, 2013
I rolled over and completed my morning stretch. The first thing that I reached for, as I always do, was my iPhone. I went through my morning ritual of checking emails, text messages and then making my rounds through social media. My notifications on Facebook indicated that a message was left in the early morning hours and it was as follows: "AIDS helped me lose 35lbs."
It took me a moment to process as I read the screen. Clearly, I must have been reading this notification wrong since it stated that this Facebook status had been posted by a friend. This was not like a friend I had never met, that simply existed in the imaginary world of Facebook-land; he is an actual friend. An actual friend had posted an ignorant line from the popular cartoon South Park on my Facebook wall. He did know that I am an international HIV/AIDS activist, blogger, radio show host and above all else a person living with HIV, right?
I quickly read through the responses and most were rebuking the status. There were comments from people living with HIV, those who had lost loved ones to AIDS-related illness as well as friends of mine simply coming to my defense. As quickly as it all started the original poster retorted that he was extremely intoxicated and very apologetic for posting it. However it got me to thinking: Is AIDS funny? Have we reached a point in our culture where the death of millions of people is funny? Is AIDS nothing more than a punch line to a joke that is told at parties?
I do not believe that the person that posted this comment had malicious intent; he was simply regurgitating things that he had heard on television. AIDS, if mentioned in mainstream media, is nothing more than a sound bite far removed from the tragedy that befell our nation and the world. It seems as if the millions that have died and continue to die globally fade, without afterthought to their pain or suffering. We simply step over their bodies as we march on. As medications have gotten better and people have started to live longer, the need to view AIDS in a sinister light has decreased, or so some might believe.
According to numbers released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) last year alone in the United States there were 50,000 new HIV infections, with the largest group being African-American and Latino youth ages 13-24. Globally there are approximately 2.5 million new HIV infections every year with 50,000 deaths according to the World Health Organization. I suppose that I fail to see the humor in these statistics.
For the first time in the pandemic we are equipped with new prevention tools such as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which when taken as prescribed reduces the risk of contracting HIV by as much as 90 percent. Studies are currently underway to evaluate efficacy when doses are missed however initial data-sets looks as if PrEP provides between a 30-50 percent reduction in risk when doses are missed. Not to mention that HPTN 052 showed that the risk of transmitting the virus from HIV-positive individuals who are virally suppressed drops by up to 96 percent.
Instead of AIDS service organizations and providers working together to get the message out about this new prevention tool, there is in-fighting. One of the largest AIDS service organizations, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has single-handedly made it their mission to disregard this new science and instead stick with a "condom only" prevention strategy perpetuated Michael Weinstein. Is a shift at hand though? Impulse Los Angeles has made a great effort to bring attention to the issue of PrEP and other important topics, but will the message be lost since it is affiliated with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation?
The need for credit and accolades trump the task at hand and as we fight amongst ourselves, the next generation of HIV patients is being born and spoon-fed the belief that "AIDS is funny."