November 15, 2010
Over the years, World AIDS Day has become a global phenomenon that has prompted massive media coverage, raised awareness, encouraged people to get involved and helped amplify the voices of those living with HIV/AIDS. Every Dec. 1 for the past 22 years, humanity has taken 24 hours to commemorate those who have died, acknowledge those who live and those who fight on the frontlines of the battle against HIV, and ponder what it will take to eliminate the virus once and for all.
We all can agree that one day is not enough. Only so much that can be accomplished during a single rotation of the earth on its axis. So as we planned our 2010 World AIDS Day feature, we kept coming back to a central issue: How can we keep HIV/AIDS from falling back into obscurity once Dec. 2 hits? How can we help people carry the torch into 2011 and beyond?
Is it even possible?
Given the accomplishments we've seen take place in the U.S. alone during 2010, it'd be nice to think that it is possible to build momentum. This year brought the U.S. its first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy; the lifting of its HIV travel ban; a resurgence of people on AIDS Drug Assistance Program waiting lists; the debut of a remarkable HIV/AIDS documentary, The Other City debuted; and excitement about the development of a potentially effective microbicide. An acclaimed budding fashion maven even disclosed his status on television and was hailed for his courage.
But despite all of this, there is still pathetically little attention paid to HIV/AIDS in mainstream society -- and often, the attention HIV does get only serves to reinforce ignorant stereotypes and strengthen stigma.
We need more media coverage about actual people living with HIV, telling their stories on their own terms. Wouldn't it be immensely powerful to see people talking about raising their families; addressing stigma; dealing with the difficulties of treatment adherence, side effects and drug resistance; overcoming addiction; battling housing and economic issues; dealing with dating, sex and love; and navigating homophobia, racism and gender issues?
But nearly three decades into this pandemic, we're still not seeing any of that. Although there are some politicians and members of the media who try to publicly break down the walls of HIV stigma, it's clear that if we want real change to happen, we're the ones who are going to have to bring it. One person at a time, one community at a time, from the ground up. The quest to keep HIV/AIDS on people's radars begins with each of you.
It's with this in mind that we created our World AIDS Day 2010 feature at TheBody.com. In this section, which is for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people, you will find content that inspires you to do, think and learn more about the fight against HIV/AIDS. You can locate events in your area to attend; educate yourself and your community with informative fact sheets; and read a diverse helping of first-person stories and commentaries in which people discuss their experiences living with or being affected by HIV. You can also watch the finalists in our World AIDS Day 2010 Video PSA Contest -- and vote for the video you think should win!
We hope our World AIDS Day site will inspire you to become AIDS activists in your own way. That could be by simply wearing a red ribbon. Or you could volunteer at a local HIV/AIDS organizations. You could write a letter to your local politician. You could encourage your peers to get tested. You could e-mail media outlets and demand that they report more on the epidemic in your area. You could ask your pastor, rabbi, imam or other religious leader to start an AIDS education and support group. You could use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to send messages of compassion, prevention and awareness out to people who are close to you.
In the same way you might instinctively bless people when they sneeze or hold the door for them as they leave a store behind you, make HIV/AIDS education a part of your everyday life. Take advantage of the little opportunities that arise to increase awareness and reduce stigma, one person at a time.
Whatever you choose to do, please don't let the flame flicker out when Dec. 1 ends.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.