Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is also equally important, if not more so since this disease has no cure and kills.

In 1991, when I was still in high school, my mom began volunteering with the Tidewater AIDS Community Taskforce. She became a buddy to a man in his 40's who had HIV which quickly transferred into AIDS. Within two years he died, but not before we had gotten to know him so well, he was an honorary family member. He used to come over and spend weekends with us, hanging outside with my dad, watching me go off to both my Jr. and Sr. proms, sharing many holidays with us and so on.

We watched him go from a stout 200lbs or so, to a sickly man who barely weighed 100lbs within that 2 years. His last days were spent in a hospice, with 5 other men dying of the disease, in the care of a man who sometimes ended up cooking 6 different meals at one time for his residents. He, like both my mom and I, figured they were going to die anyway, why not live it up and eat like a king? Good point.

I found out a few weeks ago that my mom tried being a buddy 4 more times then simply burned out. She said after awhile it got hard watching them die, or in the case of one man, not care enough to take the necessary precautions to protect him from the rest of the world.

Once a month, a catholic church in Virginia Beach hosted a sort of support group for persons with HIV/AIDS, family members were allowed to come if they wanted. My dad made some of the meals and we provided the entertainment such as new movies, games, cards or just chatting. During Christmas and Thanksgiving, we'd make the whole nine for them because more often than not, the families of those who came wanted nothing to do with them either because they had HIV/AIDS, were gay or both.

It was sad and worked to teach my sister and I compassion in the grandest form. We didn't do much after Bill died, at least I thought my mom was done. Turns out my dad had asked her not to put us through that anymore because it was hard on us. Sure it was, but we were also old enough to decide for ourselves at that point and I have to say, looking back at it now, I think that was very selfish of him. He had a hard time with it because the men my mom got involved with were gay. We knew they were people whose sexual identity wasn't like ours.

When I went to the local community college a few years later, I wrote my very first research paper on HIV/AIDS and how hard the government worked to cover it up when it first surfaced in 1980. The book, And the Band Played On (along with the movie of the same name), was a great help and I highly recommend everyone reads it, even now.

Back when I was 15, the meds to treat HIV/AIDS were few and far between. Mostly, it was just AZT that was used: it cost $1,000 for a month's supply and you couldn't use it for more than two years because it suppressed liver functions and eventually killed the kidneys. Today it's cost has not gone down any, and more meds have been added so that persons with HIV/AIDS now have the option to take a triple cocktail which helps suppress most of the symptoms and slow down the spread of the disease. Each med that is prescribed to a person with HIV/AIDS costs upwards of $700. If someone who has this disease has no insurance yet has to take these meds (sometimes 5 times a day), that's over $2000/month when budget cuts on valuable programs such as Medicaid/Medicare are a yearly occurrence. Also, when a person has to take that many pills everyday for the next 30 or 40 years, they begin to suffer from pill fatigue. One of the challenges in treating persons infected with the disease is keeping them on their meds.

(Somewhere around this time, the movie Boys on the Side came out, too.)

Early in his presidency, Bush denied the use of US money to obtain generic drugs in countries heavily inflicted with AIDS in Africa and Southeast Asia via the Global Gag Rule.

How the Emergency Plan will function was revealed when Tobias appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He defended his appointment and complete lack of experience of dealing with AIDS or public health matters in general by claiming he would "get a better deal" with the pharmaceutical corporations for antiretroviral AIDS drugs. In other words, Tobias will use the government funding to buy AIDS drugs from US corporations at their inflated prices, often up to 10 times more than the price of generic versions.

He has also denied funds to any charities or organizations that don't promote abstinence and instead provides condoms and/or safe abortions.

During the Senate hearings Tobias also referred to another aspect of the Bush administration's AIDS program. He claimed that the relatively lower HIV rate in Uganda was due to campaigns focusing on abstinence. At the behest of the religious right the US is now insisting that AIDS campaigns must be based on promoting sexual abstinence and refusing to support any charities that distribute condoms or make abortion available.
And just recently, he has denied any US funds to be used for HIV/AIDS education.

The U.S. Global AIDS prostitution loyalty oath restricts programs from using best practices to prevent HIV/AIDS among sex workers and trafficked individuals. In fact, evidence exists that these restrictions are already undermining promising interventions. DKT International and the Open Society Institute are challenging the U.S. policy as an unconstitutional infringement of speech, which also undermines U.S. international efforts to stem the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is a pandemic in most of Africa. It effects so many people throughout the world and Bush thinks he can just ignore it and it will go away. Hah!

Go visit Light To Unite today and find something red and pin it to yourself. Remember that HIV/AIDS could even effect you if you are in the habit of practicing any unprotected sex. There are now antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmission of the disease in utero and you would have to drink upwards of 7 gallons of saliva to get it from kissing.

RENT is out in theatres now, too, and if you live in NYC, you can see it on Broadway.

And more importantly, donate whenever and however you can whether it be your money or your time.

Update: A Story of Failure for World AIDS Day.