Written by Stephen Dewhurst
December 1st is World AIDS Day. A day to reflect on the HIV pandemic, and all of the men and women who have lost their lives to the virus – as well as the 36.7 million people currently living with HIV across the globe, including some 1.2 million here in the U.S.
Many people think – incorrectly – that because we have effective antiviral drugs, HIV is no longer a problem. But that’s simply not true. Worldwide, slightly less than half of the people living with HIV have access to these life-saving medicines. Worse yet, in some countries, the rate of HIV infection has actually begun to increase again.
Here in the U.S., data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that only 3 out of 10 people living with HIV have their infection under control. Moreover, new HIV infections in this country are still occurring at a rate of almost 40,000 people a year. That’s simply unacceptable.
Which is why it is so important that New York State, Monroe County and the City of Rochester – in combination with key community partners such as Trillium Health and the Mocha Center – have all committed themselves to ending the local and regional AIDS epidemic by 2020.
In fact, New York is the first state in the nation to have a plan to end the epidemic – which includes expanding HIV testing, ensuring that people living with HIV get the medicines they need, and increasing access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent new infections.
The other piece of the puzzle is to continue research on HIV, so that we can develop a vaccine, find more effective and longer-lasting treatments, understand how to keep people living with HIV healthy as they grow older – and ultimately find a cure for the virus. Finally, it’s worth remembering that – according to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) – HIV research has broad benefits and has led to “many new treatments for diseases such as cancer, hepatitis, heart disease, and osteoporosis”.
As we recognize World AIDS Day, we should also recognize that this is not a time for complacency or for telling ourselves that we have won the fight against HIV. It is a time for action. For redoubling efforts, at every level – from global, to national, to local.