As we begin the quick rush toward the end of 2008, it's an important time to pause and reflect upon what we miss while pondering the holidays. Today marks an often overlooked observance: World AIDS Day.
Since the early days of HIV awareness in 1981, over 25 million people worldwide have lost their lives to AIDS. While we have come far in our understanding of HIV and mislabeling it a "gay disease", a certain amount of prejudice still exists. It can effect anyone, without regard for age, race, or sexual orientation. Some victims, like Liberace, kept quiet for fear of scandal. Others, such as Ryan White, became public speakers helping the world understand the virus better and giving sufferers a face of normality. Yet there are still people who believe past misinformation and stereotypes. For as far as we have come, we have greater strides to make.
Throughout my life, I have watched the slow changes since its initial discovery. I remember watching Ryan White on television and seeing the earliest uses of the symbolic red ribbon. I have known and befriended people living with the disease. I have watched fear and hysteria give way to somber understanding. Great advances have been made in the past 20 years, from drug cocktails to scientific work on a vaccine. Yet the fight isn't over. In 2007, the number of individuals living with HIV was estimated at 33 million. In poorer countries, the survival rate is extremely low. While we may not consider AIDS as a serious affair worthy of news attention today, the battle hasn't ended.
It doesn't take much to become a catalyst for change. Educate yourself on the disease by reading information provided by the World AIDS Campaign or volunteer some time or financial donations at one of the many AIDS organizations throughout the world. HIV won't disappear simply because we turn a blind eye. Like anything we fear, we have to face it head-on.