Today is World Aids Day. It was first marked in 1991, an attempt by the international community to alert humanity to the terrible scale of the threat posed by the disease.The injustices of AIDS treatment around the world are stark but it's also important to remember that there are people living right here in our own communities suffering as well. From the Washington Post:
Yet despite advances in medical science and a growing political consensus over the need to act, the epidemic shows no signs of abating. In fact, it is getting worse.
According to the United Nations, some 25 million people have already died from Aids. A further 40 million men, women and children are living with HIV. Since the turn of the millennium, 24.2 million people have been infected, 15.6 million have died.
If the world continues on its present course, Aids is set to surpass the Black Death of the 14th century as the deadliest outbreak of disease in human history.
But the story of the battle against the epidemic reveals a world divided. A gulf exists between sufferers living in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world and those in the rich nations of Europe and North America.
The emergence of antiretroviral drugs, hailed by researchers as a "miracle" on a par with the discovery of penicillin, means that in the affluent West at least, HIV is now a treatable disease. The tragic irony is that in Britain infection rates among some communities continue to rise. It was reported last week that incidences among gay men had reached their highest level since 1981 as safe sex practices were being ignored.
In Africa it is a different story. In Rwanda, where rapid advances in treatment have helped hundreds of thousands, doctors call it the "Lazarus effect" - just two antiretroviral drugs can restore a stricken patient to almost full health. Costing less than a dollar a day, they can be bought from any corner shop.
The tragic irony here is that even at this price, they are too expensive. Africa is seeing the fastest growth of any region of the world with an infection rate of 15 per cent. Perhaps hardest hit are the 2 million HIV-affected children of the region, who contracted the virus in the womb or during breastfeeding. Global drug-makers have little interest in making smaller doses of their life-saving medicines. The bigger profits are in the markets of the developed world among the sick, rich adults.
Every Wednesday the men come to see Gary Isler.AIDS isn't a Third World problem or a First World problem. It's a Whole World problem. From sufferes as local as those in my own city, Washington DC, to those in every far flung location, it is the world's repsonsibility to make every effort to provide for those already afflicted and to continue to search for a vaccine. Take today to do something to help. Wear a ribbon to raise awareness, donate money, call on your representatives to do something, even if you just stop to think, make an effort.
Like him, they are recovering addicts and ex-convicts. Unlike him, they are living with "the sauce," "the alphabets." HIV.
And each week they come to the fluorescent-flooded room in Southeast Washington and sit in the circle of plastic chairs that Isler has arranged for them. Sometimes there are five men, sometimes a dozen. Isler thinks there could be more.
Each week he knocks on doors, calls and calls, fishing for those who live on the margins of the marginalized. It is one thing to be poor in the District of Columbia, Isler explains. It is another to be poor and battling drug addiction. Add to that being an ex-convict trying to reintegrate yourself into a community, often the same one where you once stole and robbed, or worse. Now add HIV, and it becomes a world few see, unless you are a worker like Isler, or living inside it.
"They're like castaways," Isler says, "and they need a place to work on themselves."
World AIDS Day