Today is World AIDS Day 2009, a day to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS worldwide. We pause to remember the nearly 600,000 Americans who have died of this horrific disease and pledge to help those living with HIV/AIDS. The CDC estimates that more than a million people are living with HIV/AIDS and that number is growing, with 56,300 new infections in 2008 alone.
World AIDS Day is observed on December 1st and has been every year since 1988 when the World Health Organization marked the occasion as a way to “to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic.”
Every year, we trot out the red ribbons (see above) and alarming statistics. We pay lip service to the cause of fighting HIV/AIDS but are we actually making real progress at fighting the disease?
I know I’m not doing my part.
In middle and high school, I volunteered for the AIDS Resource Council of Wisconsin and was a member of their Teen AIDS Prevention Program (TAPP). TAPP was a small group of peer educators who went to local schools and community groups. We talked to middle and high school kids about what HIV/AIDS is, how you get it (direct contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluid or breast milk), and how you don’t get it (You cannot get AIDS from Sammy peeing in the school pool. Nope!)
We explained that you need to take universal precautions when dealing with bodily fluids that transmit HIV. We explained that giving and receiving blood is safe, that the Red Cross screens all blood for HIV.
We also talked about sex. We talked about the fact that abstinence is the only 100% way of not getting HIV, but if you’re going to have sex, you need to use protection: condoms and dental dams. We demonstrated how to put a condom on using our for-demonstration-purposes-only dildo, Pete the Purple Penis.
Prevention efforts like ours helped. A study at Johns Hopkins found the HIV transmission rate has dropped 33 percent since 1997, the year I left for college and stopped working with ARCW. That’s great news. Still, when more than a million people in the United States and more than 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV, we are not doing enough to stop this disease.
Every day should be World AIDS Day.
Here in the U.S., we need to eliminate abstinence-only funding and teach age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education in every state and every school district. I was lucky enough to attend health classes in the Eau Claire, WI, school district, where health teacher Deb Tackmann constantly fought with the school board and the community to include real sex education in the curriculum: HIV/AIDS, STDs, teen pregnancy and contraception (including condoms).
Everyone needs to know this information. Here in Wisconsin, the legislature is considering the Healthy Youth Act (AB 458 & SB 324). According to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, the Healthy Youth Act:
requires schools that teach sex education to do so in a responsible, comprehensive manner that includes information about abstinence and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy prevention strategies, such as birth control and condom use.
If you live in Wisconsin, please contact your state senator and ask him/her to vote “yes” on the Health Youth Act (SB 324).
Another step we can take to prevent HIV/AIDS is to eliminate federal funding for abstinence-only education. After President Obama stripped abstinence-only monies from the federal budget, Senator Reid has included language in the Senate health care reform bill that will re-authorize abstinence-only funding for another five years. Call your representative and senators: Tell them to remove abstinence-only funding from health care reform.
We can also volunteer or donate to a local AIDS service agency. Check your yellow pages for one near you.
There is much more we can do to prevent HIV/AIDS here in the U.S. There’s no excuse; we should be doing it.
To learn more about the global AIDS epidemic and how it affects women, click here.