The Year of the Tiger
Every year around this time, many of us will make resolutions and promises to ourselves -- a few we will keep, and many we'll break. Some resolutions are related to our physical health, such as, "I resolve to exercise at least three days a week" or "I'm going to lose 20 pounds in the next six months," or "I will quit smoking this year."
Some are more esoteric, such as a promise to be a better provider for your family, keep in closer contact with your friends, or even make a change in your career.
And yes, some of us will even commit to adhering more to our medications.
This New Year brings with it not only a new decade, but new possibilities. The Chinese calendar lists 2010 as the Year of the Tiger. Courageous, active, and self-assured, the tiger is a natural born leader, and symbolizes power, passion, and daring. This past December, on the day after World AIDS Day, I watched as President Obama addressed the nation and announced that he would be sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
As I listened, I thought to myself, if only our leaders could speak with half as much conviction as he did then and spell out a clearly defined and articulated policy on HIV/AIDS, we could end this epidemic in 10 years. Well, okay, maybe that's a little optimistic, but, surely, if we invested the necessary resources, and had a firm commitment and a unified plan of action from the top down, with a clear vision for what we needed to accomplish, with the best and brightest minds working on it -- we'll already have won half the battle.
So what is the plan? The Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy has been conducting a series of "town halls" throughout the country over the last few months, meeting with community representatives and providers to seek input on how best to develop a strategic plan, and what that plan might entail. Health Care Reform legislation has been and will continue to be at the top of everyone's minds as both houses of Congress work to hammer out a bill which will overhaul health care in this country (read David Munar's article to learn how this might affect people living with HIV).
But access to care for many remains elusive. As this issue goes to press, waiting lists for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) has grown to nearly 350 individuals, with waiting lists now in nine states, and 12 more states about to start. This is unconscionable, and with the recent changes in December to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) HIV Treatment Guidelines recommending initiating treatment between 350-500 CD4 T-cells, those waiting lists are guaranteed to grow even larger (to learn more about ADAPs and what you can do, see here).
Finally, stigma and ignorance continue to present enormous barriers to accessing an appropriate level of HIV care in this country and across the globe. As I learned while interviewing Donna Sweet, M.D., AAHIVS, Kansas' premiere HIV provider, it's not only the patients who face stigma and lack knowledge -- it's also oftentimes the providers themselves, especially in rural areas, who are forced to deal with stigma inside their own community, or may lack the training or resources to effectively diagnose and care for their patients who have HIV/AIDS.
So this year, what we need more than ever is strong leadership, those who will take this epidemic by the horns, so to speak, and with courage and conviction, take decisive action. We need leaders who not only symbolize power, passion, and daring -- but who define them. Time's a-wasting.
Take care of yourself, and each other.
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