To date, some 22 million people have died of AIDS with an additional 46 million people estimated to be living with HIV around the world. I remember the outrage felt by the community back in 1990 when the number of AIDS deaths reached 100,000 in the United States. As the global number continues to march towards 100 million, I find myself wondering if there is still any sense of urgency and outrage left in our countrys attitude towards HIV/AIDS.
The coming year promises to be a key year in the future of the fight against AIDS. Although signs indicate that the economy is beginning to grow again, there remain record numbers of unemployed, uninsured and homeless in our country. Three years of a flagging economy and national spending priorities focused on security and war rather than healthcare and research have already begun to erode the gains the AIDS community experienced throughout the 1990s. Many people who benefited from early access to protease inhibitors and combination therapy are now finding themselves anxiously waiting for new medications to be released as their options begin to dwindle. Many more find themselves on waiting lists for medications, medical appointments and support services. Perhaps most disturbing of all, HIV infection rates are beginning to climb at levels not seen for a decade.
This is the backdrop for the upcoming election cycle. It has been a long time since HIV could be considered a partisan political issue; everyone has an opinion on how best to fight infections and keep people healthy. This new reality exemplifies the power that can be enjoyed when a community of concerned citizens speaks with a united voice. However, not every proposal is a good one, and there remain some deep ideological divisions regarding how best to move the fight against AIDS into the future.
As someone who is intimately aware of the range of issues facing people living with HIV, your opinion must be heard and respected. Registering to vote, knowing the issues and effectively expressing your opinions are vital to regaining the momentum the AIDS community seems to have lost over the past few years. Make the New Year a time of recommitting yourself to the fight for your health, for the lives of people just like you from around the world, and for the memories of our loved ones whose earlier struggles and successes serve as an example for us all.