World AIDS Day 2011

There are very few days anymore when I do not think of HIV or those who have been lost to the epidemic in the last 30 years. Alas, it is World AIDS Day so I’d like to dedicate at least a tiny space on my wall to this occasion. That is not to say that AIDS occupies a tiny space in my mind or heart.

It’s a bit bittersweet this December 1st. We are for the first time in the history of the epidemic painfully close to prevailing in our aim of reaching zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero deaths Treatment is now proven to be effective with less toxicity and, as an immeasurable added bonus, also prevents the transmission of the virus. The price of drugs have decreased dramatically in the last decade and thanks in large measure to programmes funded by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and PEPFAR millions of people who previously did not have access to treatment are now enjoying healthy lives once again.

These are great bits of news individually and collectively. They give hope to many. And, yet, there is also much to be less pleased about.

Within the last few weeks, The Global Fund has had to cancel its next round of funding amid very real and shocking financial shortfalls. Why? Because countries including my own which previously promised to contribute to the Fund have not come through. Without those commitments honoured, there is no way to fund programmes in some of the hardest hit and most impoverished regions of the world. Without those funds, those who have been placed on treatment may now find that the medications which have restored their health and improved their quality of life may no longer be available. Without those funds, in short, individuals will die. Senselessly and needlessly.

Thus, on this World AIDS Day, I find myself conflicted. I’m hopeful and angry at once. And, that to me is the essence of this epidemic.

Despite these bittersweet truths, I am mostly and profoundly grateful to know each of those whose stories collectively and individually are far more meaningful and profound than the simple slogan for UNAIDS and World AIDS Day this year or the economic reality of AIDS programming we face today.

So, here’s to all those living with HIV and to those we have lost far too soon. In particular, I’d like to thank those who have shared their stories with me—you have touched me in ways I cannot ever hope to express and honoured me in ways I’m not entirely sure I deserve. I remember you every day and not simply on World AIDS Day. Here’s also to the often invisible and forgotten individuals who dedicate their lives thanklessly to providing much-needed treatment, care and support to those affected by HIV.

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