There was a time when the world seemed obsessed with finding a “Patient Zero” – for a time a work colleague of mine was unjustly branded as the culprit – someone who brought AIDS to the wider world and could be blamed. Now with this year’s theme for World AIDS Day we are looking at “Zero” in a more positive way: Getting to Zero – Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths. A theme? A wish? A hope? A goal!
In those first frightening and confusing years when the world grappled with the “gay plague” I lost many friends and under the most horrendous circumstances. Visits to one friend – only the second person in Ottawa to diagnosed with AIDS – were carried out with visitors wearing protective face coverings and clothing. Doctors and even some nurses were reluctant to go into hospital rooms and the atmosphere was one of fear. And fear was the prevailing atmosphere in many gay – and straight – haunts and homes; sadly there was the odd medical professional who exploited that fear while others became compassionate care givers despite their own battles with the virus. It was a time of ignorance and ignorance breeds fear.
As time went on we became more aware, better informed of possible causes and precautions and we became less fearful. We now know that AIDS is not a “gay” disease; that like any disease it knows no sex, sexuality, race or age nor, despite what we hear from some religious groups, is it “god’s punishment”. We know that it is no longer an automatic death sentence and the fear has been replaced with some hope as research continues and advances are made. Sadly it has also been replaced in some quarters with complacency as drug companies laud their products as a panacea for the effects of AIDS. And the temptation is there for developed countries to lessen the enthusiastic support they proffered 6 years ago as statistics level off.
Certainly recent reports show a leveling but those levels themselves are still alarming. In 2009 it was estimated that 3.3 million people were living with AIDS and 2.5 million of them were children. In that year it is estimated that 1.8 million people died of AIDS or AIDS related diseases and that approximately 16.6 million children were left orphaned. 16.6 million children! From newborns to teenagers left without mother or father or in some instance any family. I knew from my association with the Wakefield Grannies that the figure was staggering but that number in one year is beyond comprehension.
Much has been done since those days when a diagnosis was a death sentence but much is left to be done in not only developing ways to live with AIDS but in finding a cure. Much has been done to educate people about how to control the spread of AIDS but much is left to do in the way of education particularly in developing countries. Much has been done since those first dark days when friends saw fear and ignorance on the faces of those around them but there is still much to do to combat the fear and ignorance that still clouds so many people’s perception of the disease and those living and dying with it. Much has been done but much is left to do before we can reach the goal set out for this year’s World AIDS Day.
Getting to Zero – Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths. A theme? A wish? A hope? No, a goal!
01 decembre/December – World AIDS Day