For our World AIDS Day 2011 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world — regular contributors and those who have never written for us before — and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
World AIDS Day, for most of the country, is just another day. However, for a person living with AIDS like myself, it is a day of victory. Unfortunately this particular World AIDS Day is marred with insults and ignorance. A few weeks ago, Secretary Clinton announced the United States set a new direction for its global AIDS campaign, with an emphasis on HIV-fighting drugs that can prevent new infections. The key word in that statement is “global.” Secretary Clinton waxes poetically about creating an AIDS-free generation, declaring that it “has never been a policy priority for the United States government — until today.”
Secretary Clinton, I must ask you this. What happened to the nearly 7,000 Americans who are living without the very lifesaving medications you speak of? What about waiting lists in our own country? What about money for us? I am one of those people who depend on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program to receive my HIV medications. Without the help of the program, I am not sure how I would afford to, well, stay alive.
With all of the budget shortfalls, ADAP is a program that is living on the edge. Many states cannot afford to make their mandatory contributions, causing their own citizens to wait for these very drugs that can stop the infection in its tracks. With just over 2 percent increase a year, the Ryan White CARE Act program remains inadequately funded as compared to the need. While the infection rate remains static at approximately 50,000 a year, the need only increases as more and more individuals are living longer lives on these medications. People are now truly living with AIDS.
Doing just that — staying alive — requires nothing short of a team of support. Without the federal government leading the way, why would anyone provide support? These waiting lists created by budget deficits tell people living with HIV/AIDS one thing: that we do not matter — that people living with HIV/AIDs in other countries qualify to get the precious funding that we so desperately need in our very own.
From 2006 to this year we have seen approximately 250,000 individuals infected with HIV. Nearly 20 percent of those individuals are unaware of their status. With a population that has less and less access to health care, and with an unemployment rate that is remaining static for what seems to be a long time, now, more than ever, individuals are depending on others for their very survival in ways they never thought they would before.
This year, I made a personal achievement. I became the first long-term survivor to enter law school. I am a student at Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles, with plans to study health policy law. I know firsthand how this system works, and more important, does not work, and I want to be a part of the solution. I know that I could not make this move if it were not for the assistance of others, some of whom are unaware that they are making this very step possible for me. I am asking you to be there for these Americans when they need it most.
Secretary Clinton, I beseech you: With your power and your passion, you can help achieve an AIDS-free generation in our own country. Why can’t we transfer some of the PEPFAR funds to ADAP and eliminate the waiting lists for our very own? It would take mere pennies of your budget to achieve that goal. Nearly 7,000 Americans are depending upon it.
On this World AIDS Day, let’s make creating an AIDS-free generation in America a priority. Let’s put the White House’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy to work. Let’s provide Americans the drugs they need to live longer, healthier lives. Let’s reduce transmission through reducing infection and prevention education.
If the rest of the world can have it, why can’t it begin at home, on this very World AIDS Day?
Thomas DeLorenzo is an HIV advocate and a first-year law student. He lives in Los Angeles, Calif.
Read more of Who Knew So Few T Cells Could Accomplish So Much?, Thomas’ blog, on TheBody.com.