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Aids Isn’t Going Away: ?tomorrow Will Come With a Hellish Vengeance?

A few years ago, I took a class at ETSU: Biology and Beyond which was a course that dealt with education on HIV and the history of AIDS. I wanted to learn more about the disease so I signed up for the class. It was one that would forever change my life. While taking the class, I was not only able to hear the stories of extraordinary people but I also learned of their horrific, yet heroic lives after discovering they were living with HIV. Today, our global community ignores the fact that HIV and AIDS is on the rise again and as the memory of those lost to AIDS seemingly fades in the eyes of our leaders; their voices should forever be heard throughout the world.

HIV and AIDS are as different as Night and Day, HIV is Life and AIDS is (still) a death sentence.

You can live with HIV but you will die of AIDS. You can fight the battle as hard as your body will allow but AIDS will win the war. While our leaders refuse to spend more money and time on prevention, people continue to die and AIDS is gaining ground on us as a global community.

We haven’t found AIDS to be contained at any point since its first appearance in 1981, when the CDC learned of the epidemic that would later be referred to as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). By the year 2000, an estimated 36.1 million people were living with HIV/AIDS and an estimated 800,000-900,000 people were living with the virus in the United States. According to statistics posted at http://www.one.org , 38 million people are now infected by HIV/AIDS. While some say there is progression toward finding a cure, many are blinded by facts that simply don’t exist. While some will convince themselves it will not affect them or their lives, an estimated 2.8 million people died in 2005 and in that same year, an estimated 4.1 million people were infected with the virus (2006 Report on the Global AIDS epidemic, UNAIDS, May 2006). With rising numbers once again, eventually this disease will affect you or someone you know.

The timeline of the disease is staggering and those lives that have been affected by HIV and AIDS include far more than the names we will all remember. I have the permanent stories of Kimberly Bergalis, Elizabeth Glaser, Debbie Runions, and a precious little boy named Ryan White forever in my mind. All of these individuals seemed to live with great bravery yet they have died in vain if this country doesn’t begin to take a stand now.

I really believe that tomorrow will come with a hellish vengeance if today we ignore what we should’ve done yesterday about this disease.

There’s no question about it. When I first signed up for the Biology and Beyond Class, I thought there would eventually be a cure for AIDS. However, by the end of the semester, after I spent time working at a local hospital where there were patients diagnosed with the disease, I saw their vision. There wasn’t one. It’s ironic really, many of those people living with HIV, and later even in the face of death, felt as if they were just the early victims. They knew others would follow and those who died, knew the tomorrow they wouldn’t see held the same for many more victims as they started to battle for their own last days. The reason is apparent now but back then, it wasn’t that clear to me. HIV and AIDS patients knew there was too much of a stigma attached for full awareness to ever be successful. This is thanks to misdirected political agendas and it still exists today.

In 1992, Elizabeth Glaser addressed the Democratic National Convention and stated, “Exactly 4 years ago, my daughter died of AIDS. She did not survive the Reagan administration. I am here because my son and I may not survive 4 more years of leaders who say they care but do nothing.” She later went on to say, “America Wake up. We are all in a struggle between life and death.”

Elizabeth Glaser pleaded with our leaders in 1992 and all who were in attendance heard her but chose to do nothing. Today, we sit at a standstill as our elected and appointed officials decide how to spend more money and more time just to avoid accepting responsibility. I absolutely believe that tomorrow will come with a hellish vengeance if today we ignore what we should’ve done yesterday about this disease. There is no doubt in my mind.

While state and federal leaders spent hours opposing online wagering, ironically, they were gambling with the lives of those who could’ve used their support and would have appreciated the appropriated funds to work toward the fight against AIDS. Instead, our government chose to play craps with human lives and people continued to die.

The fact is, Americans have been led to believe through silence that the AIDS epidemic was on a road that would soon end when in actuality; the spread of HIV has apparently taken a U-Turn when you look at the shocking numbers above.

Let Us Stop This Disease Before It Stops All of Us Who Are Left

While I was a student at ETSU, I had the opportunity to meet Debbie Runions who became an advocate for the education and prevention of AIDS. Debbie, after just one sexual encounter became very ill three weeks later and three months later tested positive for HIV. That was in 1992. She too, addressed the Democratic National Convention in 1996 and she too was heard. Our politicians then simply pushed forward in another direction. Debbie died in October of 2005.

When I heard her speak at ETSU and later had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her, I discovered what her life had been like after she was diagnosed with HIV. She talked openly and honestly about her disease. She surprised me when she talked about the fact that she was thankful she had been given the opportunity to have the disease because of what it had allowed her to do. I learned later that was Debbie. She radiated optimism. Debbie knew her fate was sealed yet she chose to make the most of the life she had to live while she could live it even if it would be within the parameters and limitations of living with the virus.

Debbie’s story will always be imbedded in my mind. I can honestly say after hearing her speak, I was deeply humbled and truly feel she made a profound difference in so many lives. She had a gift to give through her message and her spirit will live on forever but her hope for political intervention may not.

While our politicians have been slinging mud at one another, their efforts could’ve been redirected in a more positive light. Instead of ministers on television running around with an entourage of followers running up astronomical bills on lavish lifestyles, they too could help. Instead of picking up prostitutes on their congregation’s dollars, they could make a choice to spend their money to save a family ridden by poverty and AIDS.

Our country and the entire global community must understand, this disease doesn’t just pick out favorites. It attacks people of all races, young and old, straight and gay. The disease is not interested in what you look like, who you’ve slept with, or what drug you’ve put in a needle. This disease takes hostages and then slowly but surely, begins terrorizing them with the stigma of the disease itself and the fear of dying.

We do have an epidemic on our hands. While our leaders have gone from one issue to another, people have gotten sick. While meetings were conducted to decide something as frivolous as whether or not Americans could have the freedom to gamble online, more people died. While a television evangelist took his body guards out for another four thousand dollar outing, countless people clung to their one dollar a week and still others were left in the epitome of poverty because of the high cost of health care and medications for a person living with HIV.

What have we decided holds value in this country? Does a human life no longer hold any substantial meaning to those in political office with the means to do something to help mankind? Apparently not, but as Americans, we have an obligation to do something to help. This is our world and our problem.

We no longer have the Debbie Runions and Elizabeth Glasers to speak out at the Democratic Conventions. Now it is up to everyone else to lead by their example. Visit ONE and start doing your best to make a difference. Global AIDS and extreme poverty is more important than who’s sleeping with whom. It’s far more detrimental to our society than any online gambling campaign just to prove a political point and it is certainly more important than listening to the ramblings of a television evangelist asking for your money so he can go buy his methamphetamines.

Isn’t it time after all the pleading from those who had their lives cut short that we finally take a stand? Isn’t it time we demand for our government to take the initiative to fight extreme poverty and Global AIDS? Isn’t it time for a day of reckoning? The debt we’ve paid to this global crisis has already been way too high. It’s time this country took a stand on the important issues at hand. It is time for retribution.

You can visit Susan Smith Alvis at her website at http://www.susanalvis.com


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