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AIDS Is Not Yesterday’s Problem

In recent years, a false sense of resolution has emerged around the narrative of the AIDS epidemic, especially in the United States. “False” because the epidemic did not end in the 1990s. It continues to ravage through our communities today as we see: More people transmitting the virus than being treated for it; annual cuts to America’s fiscal support for the fight against AIDS; and very little awareness among Americans of their HIV status that has led to a lack of control over their illness.

We, the Global Health & AIDS Coalition, claim that the domestic and global AIDS epidemic is currently in a state of emergency. There is an urgent need to accelerate efforts to ensure that all that has been accomplished in past few decades is not reversed.

Since 2010, Congress has cut over $700 million from America’s bilateral global AIDS contribution, with an additional $300 million currently on the chopping block.  A lack of political will and discourse has led to the neglect of important global funding mechanisms that are heavily reliant on American dollars, like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. While flatlining fiscal support has already shown to damage past and future progress in the fight against global AIDS, the funding cuts Congress has made cripple any attempts to scale up treatment programs in their struggle to outpace new infections.

Failing to overcome the tide of new infections will have very real consequences. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 35 million people are currently living with HIV globally. Despite this enormous disease burden, only 36 percent of HIV-positive people in low- and middle-income countries are on antiretroviral therapy. With such low access to these life-saving medicines, the virus claims almost 2 million lives each year. To date, the epidemic has claimed a total of 39 million lives.

We continue to see more transmission each year than treatment initiations. We refuse to let this trend continue, especially given the fact that antiretroviral therapy has been shown to reduce the risk of transmission by 96 percent.

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Treatment is prevention. Last year, 2.1 million people were newly infected with the virus while only 1.6 million people were placed on treatment the year prior. Therefore, at current rates, half a million more people become infected every year than are initiated on treatment. To bring about an end to the AIDS epidemic, financial support for the fight against global AIDS must scale up and initiate millions more on lifesaving therapies.

And while the media describes HIV/AIDS most often as the plight of sub-Saharan Africa alone, the United States has failed to stamp out the epidemic within its own borders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1 million Americans are living with HIV and an additional 50,000 are newly infected each year.

A recent study estimated that 20 percent of Americans living with HIV are unaware of their status. In 2011, it was found that less than 30 percent of those with HIV have their illness under control and two-thirds of those who had been diagnosed were no longer receiving treatment. Fewer than half of america’s youth—those between the ages of 18 and 24—have been diagnosed.

These statistics are inexcusable in light of the reliable and affordable evidence-based tools that are available to treat HIV in America today. GHAC calls upon Congress to put HIV/AIDS on the forefront of their political agendas and demand increased funding for treatment and diagnostic efforts in the United States and globally.

Year after year, we hear empty promises from our political leaders as they claim to reignite their commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic. Obama’s presidential campaign provided us with nothing but lip service, meanwhile Hillary Clinton’s “Blueprint for an AIDS-free Generation” has been swept under the rug.

We are a part of a generation that has never known of a time in which HIV has not threatened our health, and we are dedicated to ensuring that our children and grandchildren do not face the same threat. We are incredibly close to having the AIDS epidemic under our control. We know what needs to be done; the solutions are simple. What we need is action: from our politicians and our community. We need everyone to reach out to their legislators and demand heightened attention to HIV/AIDS.

We need everyone to stay informed about this issue—an issue that continues to affect millions of people each day, and kill over a million each year.

India Perez-Urbano ’16 is a sociology concentrator in Pforzheimer House. Marco J. Barber Grossi ’16, a Crimson news editor, is a history of science concentrator in Adams House. Both are members of the Harvard College Global Health & AIDS Coalition.

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