Today is World AIDS Day, and it’s worth taking a moment to take stock. First celebrated in 1988, it’s a day for people worldwide to show solidarity against the disease.
The breathtaking devastation of the epidemic’s mysterious and stigma-filled beginnings in the 1980s is not today’s reality. Fewer people are dying and we understand far more about treatment and transmission. Thanks to antiretroviral medications, many people can expect to live relatively long, healthy lives with minimal risk of transmission if they maintain their drug regimens.
We’ve made great strides, but there’s still so much to be done.
There were an estimated 37,600 new HIV infections in the United States in 2014, and men who have sex with men are the highest risk group, representing 26,200 of those new infections. And 6,721 people died from HIV and AIDS that year. About 15 percent of the 1.1 million people living with HIV at the end of 2015 didn’t even know they had it.
Since 2014, pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, has been a promising drug regimen to prevent infection in people with a high risk, both through sex and intravenous drug use. But users have to commit to taking it daily or it can’t do much, and without insurance, it’s not cheap.
In addition to killing people on its own, our nation’s opioid crisis means that ever-growing numbers of Americans are injecting drugs, a known risk factor for spreading infection. The rate of HIV infection among people who inject drugs is 28 times higher than the rest of the population.
Stigma, ignorance, and homophobia are still at play: We’re living in an era where the current occupant of the White House doesn’t see fit to even mention LGBT people in his official proclamation for World AIDS Day.
We can’t forget where we came from. We can’t pretend it’s just a chronic condition like diabetes that can be managed easily. We can’t let our guard down.
This afternoon and evening, visit the Missouri History Museum’s World AIDS Day event between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display and the Gateway Men’s Chorus will perform. It’s the inaugural St. Louis Red Ribbon Awards, and the movie Still Around is screening.
And for heaven’s sake, if you don’t know your status, get tested—on-site rapid HIV testing means you have no excuse to leave the party without knowing.