World AIDS Day passed with minimal fanfare at GW and around D.C. Friday, overshadowed by the election fight at the U.S. Supreme Court – a poor testament to the importance of a catastrophic disease worldwide. There are about 16,000 new cases of HIV every day – a figure almost equal to GW’s total enrollment – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization estimate that by the end of the year, 3 million more people will die from HIV/AIDS complications. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has reached an astounding scale and endangers every person on earth. No one is dying as a result of dimpled chads or miscounted ballots. The media and American people need to refocus their attention to issues of lethal importance.
GW Student Health Services hosted an event to launch a new hotline to provide students with AIDS/HIV information, but few students participated and scheduled speaker D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton failed to show. The scene was similar outside the White House, where AIDS awareness organizations held a rally to push the issue to the center of public attention. Turnout was low and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was scheduled to speak, attended protests at the Supreme Court instead. The Washington Post did not report a single article regarding World AIDS Day, even though D.C. has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the country. This wave of apathy is shameful.
Awareness of AIDS is vital to the fight and combat the worldwide killer. The best prevention for HIV/AIDS is abstinence from sex, but there are other important preventative measures, including the use of condoms, that need more publicity to help countless areas restrain the pandemic. Ignoring events aimed to increase AIDS education only contributes to the problem.
Apathy about AIDS has extended across the country. According to UNAIDS and WHO, prevention efforts in wealthy countries have stalled. There will be 45,000 new infections in North America by January. But people do not seem to be that concerned, a disturbing thought considering devastation felt in countless areas of the world.
AIDS has become a global issue and an equal-opportunity killer. No longer is it a disease confined to gay men or drug users. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit by the pandemic, 8.8 percent of the adult population, more than 25.3 million people, are infected with HIV/AIDS.
The world must act aggressively to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS infections. In the words of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, From the world stage to the most intimate moments, AIDS requires us to open our eyes and not dismiss it as `someone else’s issue.’