Americans need to be AIDS aware

If you could save someone’s life in ten minutes, would you do it? Of course you would. The question, then is, are you willing to spend just a few minutes to help save millions of lives?

I’m talking about AIDS. Everyday 8,200 people around the world die from AIDS and 14,500 new people become infected. It is projected that by 2010, there will be 40 million orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa because of AIDS. (That, by the way, is about the number of children in U.S. public schools.) There are currently 36 million people with AIDS world-wide; 25 million of those are in Africa. Experts believe that if nothing is done, in ten years the AIDS crisis will be worse in Asia than it is in Africa. There is also a rapidly growing crisis in Latin America and Russia.

The impact of the AIDS epidemic is significantly more severe than “just” the loss of life to those infected, especially in developing countries. When a member of a household becomes sick, other members of the household, especially women and girls, must provide care for that person because hospitals are already well past capacity because of other AIDS patients and patients with malaria, tuberculosis and STDs. Girls are pulled from school and hardly ever return, which means they will never have a substantial income or a chance for a voice in the government. When it is the breadwinner of the family that is sick, the family’s income is severely cut. When farmers can no longer work because they are too weak, the country’s food production is seriously reduced. Already malnourished people become more and more malnourished. Already impoverished governments become more and more impoverished. Already overcrowded hospitals become more and more overcrowded.

AIDS is not just a horrific disease, it is a humanitarian crisis. AIDS is a race, class, gender, nation issue. People who can afford AIDS drugs live with AIDS for many, many years. People who cannot afford them die. People who have enough to eat are much less likely to contract AIDS (or any other infectious disease) than people who are malnourished or vitamin-deficient. People who can negotiate condom use are much more likely to be able to prevent transmission of HIV than people who cannot. Countries that are spending more on health care every year than on debt-repayment are more likely to be able to provide health care for their people than countries that aren’t.

The AIDS crisis in developing countries is not the result of Africans not being able to take drugs because they cannot tell time. It is not the result of Africans having significantly more sex than Americans. It is the result of weakened immune systems because of malnutrition. It is the result of a year’s supply of AIDS medication for one person priced at 20 times that person’s annual income. It is the result of developing countries paying out $13.5 billion a year in debt-repayment. It is the result of controllable and alterable factors.

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has estimated that it will cost about $10 billion a year to really attack global AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria and he set up the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria. (A few independent studies confirmed this $10 billion figure.) Annan determined the U.S.’s share of this to be $2.5 billion. The United States pledged $200 million instead of $2.5 billion. (Later, it found the money to spend $15 billion bailing out the airline industry.) As a result of America’s lack of global leadership, many other countries pledged well below the amounts they were called on to contribute.

The United States not only can contribute $2.5 billion but it needs to contribute $2.5 billion. The epidemic is spreading faster every day. As situations become worse, it will spread only faster. In 10 years, there will be more people infected in Asia than in Africa. How long after that will it be before Latin America and Russia catch up?

There is currently a letter in Congress that has been signed by 55 representatives and five senators. The letter calls on President Bush to allocate $1 billion in emergency spending for the Global Fund by World AIDS Day on December 1 as a first step toward the $2.5 billion. The nation-wide Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) is lobbying Congress and getting letters from voters across the country in order to increase the number of signatures on the letter. Since each handwritten letter is counted as 300 constituents by senators and representatives, letter writing campaigns are successful. Just last week SGAC got Senator Kennedy to sign on when they met with him and dropped more than a thousand letters in his lap.

AIDS is a devastating and heartbreaking issue, but is also one that is full of hope. So much can be done. We really cannot afford not to do it. This is not a time for apathy. It is not a time for “I’m too busy.” There is no putting it off until later. Thousands of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, daughter, sons, school teachers, doctors are dying every single day. (In fact, about 60 have died in the time it has taken you to read this essay.) This is not a time for despair. It is a time for hope. It is a time to say, “We will not allow this death sentence for the world!” Become involved in the Williams chapter of SGAC or, at least, help us reach our pledge of 750 letters to Congress by taking three minutes one day in Baxter to write a letter and save millions of lives.