It is noteworthy and commendable that Conscience has published an article on HIV & AIDS. This difficult subject, however, fails to receive the exposure it so desperately needs if it is ever to be defeated.
As Presbyterian clergy, I lived and worked with sex workers in the 1980s, when the vagaries of this disease first struck us. The carnage was significant and devastating.
HIV & AIDS is one of the world’s most serious public health challenges, particularly as it affects poor women and children. Even though there is a global commitment to stopping new HIV infections and ensuring that everyone living with HIV has access to HIV treatment, this is far from any kind of reality globally.
Your article focused heavily on the gay male American experience of this disease and, indeed, HIV & AIDS has left its devastating mark on this community. But we must focus our energy and our resources on the spread and impact of this epidemic worldwide. According to UNAIDS, 36.9 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV & AIDS, including 2.1 million children. The vast majority of people living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries. The fact remains that too many people living with HIV, or at risk for HIV, still do not have access to prevention, care and treatment, and there is still no cure. However, effective treatment with antiretroviral drugs can control the virus, so that people with HIV can enjoy healthy lives (as your article pointed out) and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
The HIV epidemic affects not only the health of individuals, it wreaks havoc on families and impacts households, communities and the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffer from other infectious diseases, food insecurity, armed conflict, poverty and other dire problems.
There are promising signs in the treatment and prevention of this disease and, to be sure, I know a good number of folks who have, for decades, lived engaged and active lives with this disease. However, we must ask if our global efforts at confronting this epidemic, particularly in the last decade, are adequate. Despite the availability of a widening array of effective HIV prevention tools and methods, and a massive scale-up of HIV treatment in recent years (also mentioned in the article), new infections among adults globally have not decreased sufficiently. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done as we confront this disease.
Unfortunately, its conversion to a form of chronic illness in the United States belies the fact that it remains a personally and socially disastrous disease elsewhere in the world and has a disproportionate effect upon poor women and children around the globe. People of faith must see this as a call and commitment from the Holy One.
Reverend Ann Hayman
Board Member, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Southern California
Los Angeles, California, USA