Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009

In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available, about 33.2 million people were living with AIDS around the world—about 2.5 million of them children under 15. During that same year, about 2.5 million were infected with this highly preventable disease and about 2.1 million died.

To put that in perspective for Americans, that means that the number of people living with AIDS is about four times the population of New York City, with new cases every year about equal to the population of Houston. In the U.S. alone, it's estimated that well over a million people are living with AIDS with an additional 55,000 to 60,000 diagnosed every year.

In South Africa, the country hit hardest by the pandemic, the president has wised up and is taking positive action to address the AIDS problem. Meanwhile in America, I spoke just yesterday to a pregnant 15-year-old who was not aware that a condom might not only have prevented her pregnancy but also helped to protect her from STDs, including AIDS. She knew, of course, that abstinence would protect her; however, like many of the 1 in 3 U.S. girls who become pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday, she didn't think about that when it was time to make a choice.

In the U.S., there has been little public awareness or support for initiatives to address the AIDS epidemic for one main reason: thanks to political correctness, it's all but invisible. To read the obituaries in almost all American newspapers, you'd think no one ever dies of AIDS; rather, those who are infected die of pneumonia, cancer, or some other more socially acceptable disorder caused by AIDS. Partly because of our dysfunctional health care system and reporting laws that differ from state to state, some cases are never identified until a terminally ill patient reports to a hospital to die.

So on this day, I suggest that we consider a few ways to improve this situation. We can stop the nonsense about "abstinence only" sex education and resolve to give kids all the information they may need to protect themselves. (This doesn't mean telling kids to have sex, but it does mean acknowledging that no matter what we say, many won't choose abstinence.) In the same spirit of compassionate realism, we can support needle exchange programs. American Catholics can tell their newly politicized bishops that if they want to reduce the number of abortions in America, they should support measures to reduce the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. We can support health reform. And finally, we can work to reduce the kind of mean-spirited judgmentalism that may prevent AIDS-infected people from getting help and taking steps to protect others.

No comments: