Sometimes it's not about the Oscars -- news from Hollywood that is. In spite of what you read in the tabloids, this isn't the land of celebs running all over town in their Bentleys, charging whatever they want on Rodeo Drive. It's actually a town where one in seven people live under the poverty line. It's a town where over 60,000 individuals struggle daily with HIV/AIDS. It's a town, where in spite of whatever the Kardashians are cooking up next, has seen its median income drop nearly $4,000 between 2007 and 2010, to a pretty impossible to live on here amount of $52,384. This number, coupled with the fact that Los Angeles County has the highest amount of uninsured individuals in the State of California, makes you wonder how anyone can even afford to attend the Oscars.
Sometime in the beginning of the year, I was consumed by a legal writing project. It was only fifteen pages but was going to be 80 percent of my grade. The sweats it brought on had not occurred on my body since my T cells were under 100. I couldn't sleep. I could, however, eat -- and eat and eat. In the middle of this hell, I learned about a conference to be held at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. The conference was called Hope For the Future ... Working Towards a Cure and was being sponsored by Walgreens Pharmacy. More important -- the special guest of the conference was going to be Timothy Brown, otherwise known as the Berlin Patient.
Dear Fellow People Living with AIDS,
Today I am about to complete my first year of Law School, a hurdle I thought almost unachievable a few years back. When I finish my contracts final today, I want to scream what I have accomplished from the rooftops, not just for me, but for all people dealing with the everyday battle of being a Person Living with HIV/AIDS.
I didn't know Bonnie Goldman for a very long time, nor did I have many contacts with her in person. That being said, these few times we did interact, she was nothing short of a force of nature on my life. Sometimes we get lucky and meet that person who can push us beyond our comfort zones and encourage us to do things that we never thought we could before. Bonnie was one of those people in my life.
World AIDS Day, for most of the country, is just another day. However, for a person living with AIDS like myself, it is a day of victory. Unfortunately this particular World AIDS Day is marred with insults and ignorance. A few weeks ago, Secretary Clinton announced the United States set a new direction for its global AIDS campaign, with an emphasis on HIV-fighting drugs that can prevent new infections. The key word in that statement is "global." Secretary Clinton waxes poetically about creating an AIDS-free generation, declaring that it "has never been a policy priority for the United States government -- until today."
I was 28, having dinner with my former partner, David, and simply stated I was disappointed with my life thus far, that I had accomplished more in the decade before I was 20 than in my 20s. Things needed to change and I needed to go back to school to make them change. I hadn't a clue exactly what that meant yet but I was ready to try.
When the newspapers were ablaze with "AIDS at 30" I felt as if I should have gone out and gotten a cake, complete with the requisite 30 candles. In spite of the statistics being tossed around, we have again missed another public health moment in these ever so loosely United States. I say loosely because the quality of healthcare is truly a state-by-state situation. Indiana is about to set back the clock by defunding Planned Parenthood and allowing women to go without the most basic of health tests. States, via their federally funded AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, also get to choose which HIV drugs they cover, and what income levels are eligible.
I grew up in Schenectady, a small city in upstate New York. Sex education was an embarrassing night with my younger brother in the school cafeteria with a black and white filmstrip from the '50s. There was no discussion afterwards, just an awkward silence because the room was filled with people you were going to see in the morning. In high school, we were barred from learning about condoms. The thinking was, if you teach them about condoms, they would run out and have sex. Yeah, right.
On December 14, 2010, my inbox was inundated with the news of the "Berlin Cure." My friends without HIV who, thankfully, have no reason to follow HIV-related discoveries as closely as I do, were all excited about this news. They were taken aback by my lack of enthusiasm. I had many reasons to hold back my joy. Some were purely scientific; some were personal.
By the end of this year, over 4,000 Americans will not be able to access their lifesaving HIV medications due to funding short falls. HIV infections keep going up in this country in spite of the prevention efforts. But there is one group that people are forgetting about -- the men and women spending their final days in AIDS hospices across the country.