WORLD AIDS DAY 2013
Do Our Lives Matter?
By A. Cornelius Baker
On World AIDS Day in 2011, President Obama called on the nation with a simple request: “When new infections among young black gay men increase by nearly 50 percent in 3 years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter.” Two years later, those hauntingly strong words from the most powerful man in the world still resonate as the HIV epidemic continues to disrupt the lives of nearly 200,000 black gay men in our country.
During the past few years, the world has made remarkable progress toward bringing an end to the HIV epidemic. The United Nations AIDS program reports that new HIV infections have been reduced dramatically since 1997 and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses have decreased by more than 21% since 2005. Most of this progress has been made in Africa, due to the generosity of the American people, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has provided countries with millions of dying people with access to life-saving anti-HIV drugs that have transformed the course of the epidemic.
Recent advancements have also shown the importance of reducing transmission by use of HIV medications, the possibility of a vaccine, and new concepts for a cure. We are at a turning point where it is possible to imagine our ability to defeat this deadly virus. To end the epidemic, however, will not only require advances in science, but also leadership to create a culture that encourages the willingness and provides the safety to seek HIV testing, care and treatment.
While HIV rates have been steady in the U.S. with about 50,000 new cases a year, there has been a jump of 48% in new infections among young black gay men. That means that this year another 12,500 will become HIV positive. We must take up the President’s challenge by asking how much we value our own lives and how we can love each other better.
In the United States, the community of black gay men is a small universe estimated at just under one million people. Yet we are quickly moving toward being the majority of the HIV epidemic. This cannot become the legacy of our presence in the world.
I know that ending the epidemic seems like a huge task. But it is not!
So what can we do to love each other better and save our lives?
- Every person in our community who is HIV negative or does not know their status should get an HIV test at least twice a year.
- Every person who has HIV should find a healthcare provider where they are respected and receive the best quality of care.
- Every person in our community should demand that our leaders — both locally and nationally — take our lives seriously and to push for policies, programs and funding that supports our needs.
- Every person in our community should volunteer or give money to support our local and national advocacy groups.
- Be a part of ending AIDS by loving yourself, each other and our community without fear.
The end of AIDS is now something we can vision. Each of us can play a part in making it happen.
A. Cornelius Baker is the Acting Director for the HIV/AIDS Unit at FHI 360 and a Senior Advisor for the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition