When the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2011 landed in my inbox, initially I thought “AIDS. I remember that.” It seemed so distant, so removed from the causes that populate general consciousness in this country and seemingly, around the world. We are living in an age where protests pop up like dandelions in the sidewalk; a world where the threat of terrorism crouches in the shadows of every bridge and tunnel we cross and every airplane we board. We worry about whole currency blocs falling apart, our jobs, our retirement. A new reality of toppling governments (whether it be crumbling dictatorships or populist ousters due to financial malfeasance) has taken hold. Families wonder whether sending their children to college is a realistic expectation and what will happen when the bank forecloses on their home. There is an odd sense of nostalgia for the days when all we had to worry about was brutal gang violence and the crack and AIDS epidemic took hold.
Sarcasm aside, and taking into consideration all of the concerns listed above, I find it all the more remarkable that there is still progress being made in fighting this heinous disease. According to the report, the economic crisis has yielded a drop in financial resources being devoted to AIDS. International assistance declined from US$ 8.7 billion in 2009 to US$ 7.6 billion in 2010. Some global goals had to be readjusted because due to the impact in the drop of funding but resources are still being allocated. It shows great fortitude that when fresh and urgent causes pop up, as they have been, that the world’s dedication does not get switched off.
All of the resources in the world, however, would not make a dent if they were not allocated in a manner that maximizes efficiency. UNAIDS helps to make this possible, having formulated an investment framework based on four tenants that allow different cultures and countries to tailor their own responses while working within the parameters of an established framework. I believe this to be of crucial importance. What works for one culture will not necessarily work for another when it comes to battling this disease.
What I remember most clearly about how the problem was handled when I was growing up is the relentless and almost fanatical push that was made to educate us from elementary school up through high school and even college. I am grateful that the cultural taboos of the 1950s had evaporated by the time I was in grade school in the early 1990s. I clearly remember the first time that the subject was addressed. I was in second grade and it was during a school assembly. Some of the powers that were at that time might have wanted to wait to tackle the subject when it could have been woven into the fifth grade sex discussion, but this was the age of Magic Johnson; we were asking questions at a young age, and I’m glad that we were. The initial focus was not on explaining how one contracts the disease (no doubt that would have derailed the discussion) but rather what the disease was and how it did not turn people that had it into monsters. Without Magic Johnson announcing that he was HIV positive, I’m afraid the disease would have been pushed into the closet and discussed at a later time. But how could you do that? Most of my friends at the time had Magic Johnson basketball cards and Dream Team jerseys. There was no way for AIDS to be marginalized anymore, and that made a big difference for my generation.
AIDS was a primary curricular focus throughout all of the sex and drug education throughout my life. The dedication by educational professionals to not let this cozily slip into the same danger level of running with scissors and swimming after you eat is commendable. The bombardment of focus on AIDS throughout my time in school helped foster taboos that persist in my generation today and they are instrumental in the overall health and safety of society. Safe sex is now one of those hot-button topics, much as drinking and driving was for the generation before mine. Youth is a time where, for the most part, indiscretions reign but not even the most promiscuous person I know would consider engaging in unsafe sex, for fear of contracting HIV. It is seen as the same kind of risk as getting behind the wheel after drinking. Credit for this awareness of health risk is overdue, and it should be given to the public education system in this country for meeting the problem head on and tenaciously gripping and reinforcing it, even at a time when the rest of society might not have felt all that comfortable with it.