Is something, which we now know to be so preventable, so inevitable?
The days before December 1, World AIDS Day, are rarely filled with good news – despite attempts to put spin on the statistics released by UNAIDS. For example, overall (when taking into account the wealthiest nations) those infected with HIV are living longer thanks to antiretroviral medications. This means little to those who do not have access to these medications (mine are pictured here in their morning and evening pill cases).
Finding any good news in the overwhelming statistics – even the press releases are daunting – leads to comparisons of needles in haystacks.
It is impossible to give a hierarchy to the importance of the sad facts. The face of AIDS, worldwide, is that of a woman. Women cannot take control of the world fast enough. One of my own parochial biases, gay men, leaves me shaking my head and asking, “WTF, gay men?”
More discouraging than the 2.9 million lives lost to AIDS this year is the 4.3 million new infections. In short, the dead are being replaced, and then some, with the living ill. When, in the name of the 25 million who have died, will this staggering reality change?
When will prevention efforts in the gay community – or in the broader “men who have sex with men” category – start to see sustained changes in behaviour? It doesn’t take too many lapses of judgment, however caused, to get infected. 46 percent of new infections in Canada – that’s new infections – are accounted for here. So “MSM’ (that’s not mainstream media in the case of HIV/AIDS parlance) is still the most affected group in Canada, ahead of injection drug users (19 percent).
Does anyone not think that the link between increased infection rates in North America and the availability of life-saving drugs ought to make us deserving of a collective slap across the head? Sure there are sociological factors – like poverty, drug abuse and homophobia – to consider. But it makes me crazy to think that any gay men, the average supposedly being wealthier, better-educated, etc., might believe that testing positive is just a matter of taking a few pills! Don’t take this frustration as an indictment, either against gay men or the prevention programs. That would be far too simplistic and there are enough politicians who will advance such arguments.
How the newly-diagnosed look and feel as long-term survivors may be better than a lab mouse from the early years such as me – but no one can say that for sure. Besides, from Epidemiology 101, the more who are HIV-positive and sexually active the more will become infected as a result of even casual slip-ups in prevention. I do not believe that most young gay men nowadays, in modern western society, have all of the predispositions I might have had. Maybe I’m wrong. Yet, as I look back on my youth, I recall never much believing I’d live to be 40, and gay, (and that youthful immortality is almost universal) so I leave the what-to-do list to professionals.
The report points to increasing evidence of HIV infection among men who have sex with each other (there’s that MSM again!) in Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand, but it said few of these countries’ AIDS programs really address the problem of sex between males. The problem? Homophobia and head-in-the-sand denial – read enormous stigma – of homosexual behaviour.
Canada’s First Nations peoples remain over-represented in this country’s statistics, by which it is meant the prevalence rate is disproportionate to the size of their population. The infection rate is nearly three times higher than for non-Aboriginals. Canada’s overall total of 58,000 cases must seem laughable to many countries and yet the skewed impact on our First Nations gives us prominence which is only shameful!
Never before has HIV infected so many women and, hello, they find themselves in that situation largely as a result of infected men – who may, or may not, know their own HIV status. Worldwide nearly 18 million women are HIV-positive, a jump of more than one million compared with two years earlier. In sub-Saharan Africa, women account for 59 percent of people with HIV/AIDS!
Of course that area of Africa already carries the burden of the world’s AIDS infections -63 per cent or 24.7 million people — but in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia there are 21 per cent more people living with HIV than two years ago. Ten percent increases per year? That’s unacceptable!
Dig deeper and it gets worse. HIV spread fastest in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a nearly 70 per cent increase in new infections over the past two years; 15 percent over the same period in South and Southeast Asia.
After sub-Saharan Africa, Asia is the second-most infected region. Almost eight million people with HIV/AIDS live in South and Southeast Asia.
Again, is something so preventable so inevitable? Will those of us privileged to have the best medical care live to see this pandemic begin to decline?
Other links to explore (in addition to the many listed in the sidebar):
Healing Our Spirit – B.C. Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Society
Stephen Lewis Foundation
Canadian AIDS Society
Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative