2007 to 2010
State of the AIDS US Union
by Jeremy S Hobbs
Each year I come to you to offer the State of the Union on HIV and AIDS. And What an amazing year this has been in the War on AIDS.
On our Local Front, Since last year our city issued a proclamation officially naming December 01 as COLUMBUS GEORGIA HIV AIDS AWARENESS DAY. And I am proud to say that since that time the people of Columbus have become united in the fight against HIV. This year we tested more people than we have ever tested before in history. Support groups for those living with HIV led by the Better Way Foundation have increased by 200% and attendance is up by 300%.
More people have come to show their support openly and publicly for HIV than ever before by participating in our local events. More advances and information have been obtained than ever before and history has been made by our Mayor Elect for agreeing to take a more active role in prevention and awareness by committing to publicly take an HIV test on National HIV Testing Day.
What a tremendous year for Columbus Georgia.
I am so blessed that the work and goals we set out to accomplish in 2007 is coming to fruition. And it's because of the great spirit of our citizens who are stepping forward and showing they care. What a humble honor to have people listening, standing up and making a difference not only in their lives but others as well. The message of hope is a powerful one, but one that cannot be spread by only one mouth. We need every tongue and every foot in this battle to stop this epidemic that has taken over 25 million lives globally.
This year was a banner year for waging the war on AIDS nationally. President Obama staffed up the President's advisory council on HIV/AIDS, reopened the office of National AIDS Policy and invited several hundred people (most living with HIV)to the White House to celebrate the launch of a National HIV AIDS Strategy. Needle exchange was approved, as was the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. the Health Care Reform Bill that will work to provide insurance for many who have HIV, although not until 2014. The Travel Ban for HIV Positive people entering the United States was lifted. The money is starting to flow: The President pledged $30 million for HIV Prevention, infused the crumbling AIDS Drug Assistance Program with $25 million in emergency funding, though unfortunately with over a dozen states returning to ADAP waiting lists including Georgia, the need still outweighs the support. The Global Health Initiative was established, securing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief's $48 billion budget.
Science also upped the ante. For the first time in years, HIV researchers will say a cure for AIDS is feasible. And results of recent studies show there is high hopes for microbicide and vaccine development, though much work is still to be done.
The Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases committed more funding and concentration on AIDS cure research and the Director of the CDC named HIV/AIDS one of six winnable battles the CDC will focus on fighting.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the State of our Union in the War on AIDS has never been stronger.
Never before in the three decades that we've battled this beast have we been better poised to administer the final curtain call and End to HIV once and for all.
But don't let this great news create complacency.
Make No Mistake, While the U.S. has made remarkable progress in its response to the Global HIV/AIDS epidemic, some of the hardest hit communities at home have fallen by the wayside, and the 56,000 new infections each year has remained unchanged. Of the 1.2 million Americans estimated to be living with the virus, 21% don't even know their status and furthermore that 21% is responsible for 70% of all new infections. In addition more than 650,000 of those individuals are not even connected to care.
Yet even with a National Strategy for HIV/AIDS that focuses on three key goals: Reducing New Infections, Increasing Access to Care, and Reducing HIV related Health Disparities, we still face many challenges which means we must change the way we do business. The most important and critical change we must face and implement is the development of successful ways to zero in on who is at risk for HIV in America today and why.
For many years, prevention efforts did not focus enough on groups at highest risk, including MSM groups, African Americans and Latinos. We must allocate funding to the groups that need it most, but we also need to think about combining prevention strategies at a scale that will allow us to reach whole communities.
When it comes to improving care for those living with HIV, Currently we do not have a system that links people to care effectively; instead we have a system that loses far too many people. Looking forward, everyone involved in HIV Services, from giving HIV test results to prescribing treatment, should also be helping people stay linked to care and needed supportive services.
Reducing the striking racial and economic disparities that characterize the U.S. epidemic will require going beyond HIV/AIDS to address the broader issues affecting hard-hit communities. My biggest concern is that we'll fool ourselves that this is just about AIDS. I think we need to stop talking just about diseases and start talking about communities that are acutely affected by a range of health concerns.
HIV/AIDS is disproportionally affecting African Americans and different age groups here in the U.S. And you can't talk to these individuals the same way or reach them in the same places. For starters, they don't face the same challenges. Even with subpopulations, the reasons why someone may be more likely to get HIV, or to develop AIDS, differ widely. They need different kinds of help, support, and education.
Different messages will move them to get tested, to seek support, to link to care.
Much of what we have learned about fighting HIV has to be reconsidered in light of who is contracting the virus today and why. Which is why we are taking education and outreach efforts to the streets in ways that are specific to the various communities impacted by this disease.
Three communities in particular I'd like to focus on tonight. The first being our Youth and Young Adults.
Born after the first HIV/AIDS cases made headlines, teenagers and young adults in the U.S. sadly have never known a world without AIDS. But they also live during a time when many people consider HIV a treatable disease, and relatively few of them have witnessed the complications of the virus or its treatments. Widespread complacency about the epidemic and a dearth of comprehensive sex education have contributed to a growing number of YOUNG people living with HIV in the U.S., many of whom have no idea they are even infected.
In 2006, more new HIV infections occurred among adolescents and adults aged 13-29 than any other age group. Young MSM, particularly those of color, have the highest risk of HIV among youth, representing 54% of all cases from 2004-2007 among people aged 13-24. African Americans are also disproportionally affected, representing 17% of the teenage population in the U.S., but make up 72% of HIV/AIDS Cases in this age group. Females-who are biologically more susceptible to HIV during heterosexual contact, particularly when their reproductive systems are still developing-made up 31% of HIV cases among teenagers in 2007, and 23% of cases among people aged 20-24.
Every hour, two young people become infected. Reaching young people with prevention messages will require fresh and innovative approaches. We need to keep in mind that every five years-it's a new generation of young people.
Which brings me to the second community that we must focus and double our efforts upon. That being the African American community.
African Americans in particular face strikingly negative health disparities in life expectancy, infant mortality, and are more likely to develop and die early from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS than other Americans.
Nearly 600,000 African Americans are living with HIV/AIDS, and as many as 30,000 become infected each year. As of December 2006, African Americans accounted for 46% of new HIV infections, although they comprise only 12% of the population. The HIV infection rate among African Americans is seven times higher than the rate among whites. African Americans of all ages are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S.
And finally our third community, one often ignored, is people over the age of 50.
It is now estimated, that by 2015, half of all HIV positive people in the U.S. will be 50 and older. This shifting demographic raises questions about the long term effects of both the virus and its treatments, and highlights the need for prevention campaigns targeting older Americans, who represented more than 28% of new HIV infections in 2007.
Internationally, there has been little focus on HIV among people over 50-most U.N. reports track adults between the ages of 15-49 - but data from some countries reveal an increase in this age group. In China, for example, 15% of new infections in 2009 were in people aged 50 and older, up from 1.6 percent in 2000.
There is surprisingly little research information on living with HIV over the age of 50. As the population of those living with the virus continues to age, it will be crucial to understand more about the long-term ramifications of infection and treatment.
That's why we're here today, to mobilize all sectors of society to make the investments that are needed in education and to involve our communities in addressing the HIV/AIDS issues surrounding youth, African Americans and people over the age of 50. Our goal: An HIV Free Generation in the future.
Over the past three years, The CVBWF's experiences in mentoring and networking with these individuals has resulted in the development of significant programs that are making a real difference in the lives of all people most affected by this epidemic. No matter what their race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexuality, or gender may be. We are constantly working to ensure that every person can realize their full human potential.
World AIDS Day Doesn't End at Midnight
Over the years, World AIDS Day has become a global phenomenon that has prompted massive media coverage, raised awareness, encouraged people to get involved and helped amplify the voices of those living with HIV/AIDS. Every Dec. 1 for the past 22 years, humanity has taken 24 hours to commemorate those who have died, acknowledge those who live and those who fight on the frontlines of the battle against HIV, and ponder what it will take to eliminate the virus once and for all.
We all can agree that one day is not enough. Only so much can be accomplished during a single rotation of the earth on its axis. So as we planned our 2010 World AIDS Day Banquet, we kept coming back to a central issue: How can we keep HIV/AIDS from falling back into obscurity once Dec. 2 hits? How can we help people carry the torch into 2011 and beyond?
Is it even possible?
We need more media coverage about actual people living with HIV, telling their stories on their own terms. Wouldn't it be immensely powerful to see people talking about raising their families; addressing stigma; dealing with the difficulties of treatment adherence, side effects and drug resistance; overcoming addiction; battling housing and economic issues; dealing with dating, sex and love; and navigating homophobia, racism and gender issues?
But nearly three decades into this pandemic, we're still not seeing any of that. Although there are some politicians and members of the media who try to publicly break down the walls of HIV stigma, it's clear that if we want real change to happen, we're the ones who are going to have to bring it. One person at a time, one community at a time, from the ground up. The quest to keep HIV/AIDS on people's radars begins with each of you.
It's with this in mind that we created our World AIDS Day 2010 banquet. This particular event, which is for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people, you will find information, facts and personal testimonies that inspire you to do, think and learn more about the fight against HIV/AIDS.
You can attend our major events like our Annual AIDS Candlelight Memorial held in May, Our National HIV Testing Day held in June, Our Annual 5 K Run held in September and of course our World AIDS Day Banquet held the first day of December every year and educate yourself and your community with informative facts; and hear a diverse helping of first-person stories and commentaries in which people discuss their experiences living with or being affected by HIV.
We hope our World AIDS Day Banquet will inspire you to become AIDS activists in your own way. That could be by simply wearing a red ribbon. Or you could volunteer or become a monthly sponsor with our organization. You could write a letter to your local politician. You could encourage your peers to go get tested. You could e-mail media outlets and demand that they report more on the epidemic in your area. You could ask your pastor or other religious leader to start an AIDS education group. You could use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to send messages of compassion, prevention and awareness out to people who are close to you.
In the same way you might instinctively bless people when they sneeze or hold the door for them as they leave a store behind you, make HIV/AIDS education a part of your everyday life. Take advantage of the little opportunities that arise to increase awareness and reduce stigma, one person at a time.
But more importantly we hope this World AIDS Day banquet inspires you to give.
Whatever you choose to do and/or give, please don't let the flame flicker out when Dec. 1 ends at midnight, tonight.
And finally as I close tonight I would like take a moment if I could and pay a tribute to all those living with HIV and AIDS.
As I stated last year, people living with HIV are some of the most resilient and inspiring groups of individuals I have ever had the honor of meeting and calling my friends.
Each week they come and share their lives, their stories, their tragedies, their triumphs, their failures, their accomplishments, their sadness, their tears, their joy and their laughter, they share their souls with each other so that others may take that insight and first-hand experience home with them and just maybe help them in their own journey with this disease.
Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying "Experience is a Dear School" Well Experience we Got a Plenty.
I want to personally thank all those living with HIV and AIDS who come and share those stories. You make my job worthwhile. You make the difference in my life and for that I am truly humbled and blessed.
And to those who publicly share their lives with others and tell their story just like John did here tonight takes more courage than you will ever know. Just this past fall when the Fashion Designer that I mentioned earlier named Mondo Guerra disclosed his HIV status to the world on Project Runway I like many viewers got teary-eyed. But when he told judge Nina Garcia, "I feel a lot better, I feel Free" I knew exactly what he meant. The stigma around HIV puts so many of us into a cage of solitude and silence. And if we find the courage to escape, the relief is often enormous.
Just as the host of Project Runway always says about the World of Fashion Your Either In or Your Out. And the same applies to those living in the HIV World. We are either In or We are Out. But in this scenario being Out can be so much better and Yes even healthier.
Just this past year two of our clients disclosed their status to their family members. One a son to his mother and father and the other, a mother to her child. And after they did that, the relief they felt was incredibly overwhelming. Such a weight in their lives had finally been lifted from their hearts and their minds.
When I told my parents, my health was in shambles. I was in and out of the hospital constantly. My parents knew something was wrong. Now, it took some time to get used to. But when I told them, I felt that instant relief when those tears of burden and anguish rushed forward. But it wasn't until I told my story to others including the media in 2007 that I finally felt free.
A mere month after I started my mission to help those living with HIV and AIDS through publicly disclosing, my CD4 shot up over 150 points and has remained there for the most part ever since.
It only makes sense folks. Secrets can eat us alive when we keep them to ourselves. A U.S. Supreme Court Justice once said "Sunlight is the best disinfectant" There is nothing as damaging to a poisonous secret as its release. When we tell our truth, We own it. It doesn't own us in the way it can when we choose to keep it hidden.
I am so proud of John and the others who I mentioned before who have taken that giant leap forward to living a better life. You are truly role models for all people living with HIV.
I'll tell you from firsthand experience, it's incredibly hard to disclose your HIV status. And its exponentially harder when hundreds of people are watching you. By sharing your stories you demonstrate remarkable courage, but also by doing so, your leverage your position in the limelight to illuminate the fact that HIV is still very much an issue today.
So, on this World AIDS Day, December 01, 2010, I tip my hat to John and all those who are among the best front line AIDS fighters I know. You have shown us and will continue to show us the way forward to a world where HIV is seen exactly as it should be: Just another disease. And maybe soon a thing of the past.
Surviving HIV day in and day out is reason enough to make everyone of you a hero in my eyes.
So, as we celebrate World AIDS Day, let us raise a symbolic toast to all those living with HIV and AIDS, to all our fallen pioneers, and to all those who have dedicated their lives and their resources to our cause
May you all have a safe, healthy, and joyful holiday season and may 2011, the 30th Anniversary of the Discovery of the virus, bring us one year closer to the end of HIV and AIDS forever.
Thank You All.