December 1 was World AIDS Day, observed since 1988 as part of the effort to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and for mourning those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. This year’s theme is Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.
HIV does not kill people who contract the virus, but weakens the body’s ability to fend off an attack by a pathogen that causes some deadly disease. For years after the virus was first identified, there were questions and misconceptions about how HIV spreads and how it attacks the body. The fear this uncertainty engendered often resulted – and still results - in the stigmatization of the of the person living with HIV/AIDS.
Some of the stigma people living with the HIV/AIDS encountered were accusations of immorality, judgement by individuals or even entire communities that the person’s lifestyle was somehow worthy of punishment, and indeed that the person got their just deserts.
Stigmatization more often than not results in discrimination and inequities. Even today, people living with HIV/AIDS may find it difficult to obtain help and social support, as well as economic resources. They may be pushed out of their families and marginalized within society. Some may be unable to access quality health care, may even be refused care and treatment. As a result, those who are infected with the HIV virus may avoid treatment and disclosing their status, making HIV treatment and prevention more difficult.
It is not hyperbolic to say that we can end HIV/AIDS if we end the stigmatization and other inequities which perpetuate it.
The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, is the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in the world. Since it was establish nearly 20 years ago, PEPFAR has invested $100 Billion to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic and saved more than 25 million lives by providing anti-retroviral treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS. Working with partner governments, multilateral organizations, community partners, faith-based organizations and other civil society partners, PEPFAR is working to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a global health threat by 2030.
“We still have a difficult road ahead of us … particularly, addressing the disparities we see both domestically and globally,” said President Biden. “We can eliminate HIV transmission. We can get the pandemic under control here in the United States and in countries around the world.”