I was born during a time when AIDS was barely known, much less understood, and when HIV was not yet a commonly recognized abbreviation. Today, on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of World AIDS Day, I am feeling quite reflective with regard to how far we have come and how far we have yet to travel in understanding and treating HIV/AIDS. There are three main themes surrounding the thoughts I'm experiencing: remembrance for lost family; gratefulness for the science and technology that have allowed so many to either avoid or live with HIV; and a question of whether I have personally done enough.
Two of my relatives died as a result of having contracted HIV/AIDS. One of the two was one of my favorite people, and the first person whose funeral I was ever required to attend. To some, his death would have been considered as evidence that a higher power was punishing him for his sexual orientation. To me, it was evidence that people with the purest and kindest hearts can be just as susceptible to illness and premature demise as anyone else.
The second relative who died of AIDS I did not know as well as the first; she lived out of state, and I really only remember seeing her a few times before she passed. She, too, would have been blamed for her untimely end, as her lifestyle was one which facilitated the transmission of HIV/AIDS. However, these and many other people are not evil; they are and have been misunderstood. I feel that it is the responsibility of those of us who remain to help ensure that others are given the space to be heard and cared for.
We live in a political atmosphere within which science and technology are being attacked, rather than respected. I feel that this truth has caused me to be even more grateful for the advances in healthcare that have occurred over the last three decades. Today, there are people who have been treated with medicines which have extended their lifespans exponentially; an outcome that almost seemed impossible at the time when my relatives' souls left the physical world. More needs to be done, and it is important that we continue to champion research and practice behaviors which respect the dignity and worth of people who currently have or are at increased risk for HIV/AIDS.
That leads to my third theme. Have I, personally, done enough to champion this cause? I have engaged in fundraising events and in activities to educate myself and others. I have attempted (not always successfully) to address the misinformation held by some in our communities. I have prayed for and expressed love for people who must endure the struggles brought on by HIV/AIDS. I have done some. More than some people, but not as much as others. And I would say I have not done what I think is sufficient to honor my loved ones and the many people who have been afflicted and affected by HIV/AIDS. I must do more. We must do more.
On the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, it is my hope that in the next 30 years I will have done enough to advance education about and treatment of HIV/AIDS to feel as though I have, in fact, done enough. My expectation, however, is that no matter how much I do I will always feel like it is not enough. There will always be more to do, and I hope to have the ability to act when called.