By Mike Smith
World AIDS Day is December 1, 2012. It is an annual opportunity to reflect on the state of the epidemic, remember those we have lost, marshal resources to continue the battle and recommit to helping those affected by HIV/AIDS. Through Saturdayâ€™s events like Paint the Castro Red and the National AIDS Memorial Groveâ€™s noontime ceremony, we call attention to the need for action.
2012 has been a banner year for AIDS prevention. Hope ran through the halls of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., this summer, as promising signs emerged that prevention is within our reach. Phrases like â€śan AIDS-free generationâ€ť and â€śthe beginning of the end of the AIDS epidemicâ€ť resonated around the globe, and for good reason. There have been a number of medical breakthroughs recently, and there is also very exciting news about medically based prevention strategies.
But does this really mean an end to AIDS? Unfortunately, no. â€śThe beginning of the end of the AIDS epidemicâ€ť is not the end of AIDS. It is the beginning of the end of the epidemic. To medical researchers and epidemiologists, that means slowing the rate of new infections enough that the virus no longer reaches a critical reproductive mass that defines an epidemic.
We can do this if nearly all people living with HIV/AIDS were able to reduce their viral load to undetectable levels by maintaining their drug regimen.
This, combined with a daily drug regimen for people most at risk of HIV/AIDS, does mean the number of new infections would plummet â€” which would be a very good thing!
But it does not mean we have a cure. People who have battled HIV/AIDS for a decade or more â€” those who have experienced the permanent and debilitating side effects of the illness or its treatments â€” will not suddenly fully recover and re-enter the work force. Thousands disabled by HIV/AIDS will still need financial assistance from AIDS Emergency Fund, meals from Project Open Hand, and specialized (and expensive) medical care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV. By the end of 2010, there were 15,861 people living with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco alone. These people are already marginalized. The 2,300 clients served each year by the AIDS Emergency Fund are nearly invisible on the streets of San Francisco or in the life of the community.
We may be on the verge of breaking the cycle of new infections, but if the average citizen understands that news to mean â€śthe end of AIDS,â€ť it will push people living with HIV/ AIDS farther off the radar of compassion and generosity. Those living with HIV and AIDS need our continued support, and because they are living longer on new medications, new types of services are needed to keep pace with the side effects.
On this World AIDS Day, AIDS Emergency Fund marks its 30th year of service with a Gala in Golden Gate Park. We are proud to operate in a city known for its pioneering efforts in support of people living with HIV/AIDS. We are honored to have the financial support of companies like Wells Fargo and Levis Strauss & Co. that share our vision. We are committed to the longer-term fight for the end of AIDS, not just for an end to new infections.
Mike Smith is the executive director of AIDS Emergency Fund.