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World AIDS Day

December 1st was designated as World AIDS Day, the first international health day, back in 1988. Just 7 short years after the first cases were detected in California, the world stood up and recognized this as a global epidemic that needed increased awareness. AIDS, or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is the last stage of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is diagnosed once HIV destroys so many of your cells that you can no longer fight off even the most mundane cold strain. Fast forward to 2012, and real progress in stopping the development of HIV into AIDS can be tracked. As many of you know, though, this virus is a bitch. Treatments have advanced light years, but there is no cure. Tens of thousands are still infected every year, mostly targeting gay or bisexual men and blacks. So many factors contribute to your risk rate, including access to prevention education, testing facilities, health care, socioeconomic standards, and social taboos. In this country in particular, our risk factors also increase based on who holds political power. Funding for testing, prevention, sex education in schools, and treatment is sharply partisan. Thankfully, President Obama has taken the reigns and made some key policy decisions to help protect against an increase in infection rates in the future. On this World AIDS Day, let’s stand with our global family and commit to help make a difference. First things first; let’s get some facts straight:

Fact:
Knowledge is power. GET TESTED. Ask your partners to get tested. Make a date of it. Infection rates among youths, (13-24), are on the rise and as many as 60% of those persons are unaware that they are carrying the virus.

Fact:
The Center for Disease Control has no record of a woman-to-woman sexually transmitted case of HIV/AIDS. However, that doesn’t mean we are not at risk. The data is outdated and lesbians and women who sleep with women (WSW) are notoriously under studied. Keep practicing safe sex; utilize condoms on shared toys, use dental dams (especially if you have open wounds around/in your mouth), and don’t share needles. Period. In 2009, 3 out of 4 women were infected through injection drug use. These practices not only reduce HIV/AIDS risks, but help keep you healthy all around–many sexually transmitted infections are still passed from woman-to-woman, and we don’t exclusively practice vaginal sex. In 2003, there is a documented case of a woman who contracted HIV after regularly sharing sex toys with an HIV-positive partner.

Fact:
As of 2004, 7,381 women (of the 246, 461 living with HIV) reported having sex with other women.

Fact:
Women account for roughly a quarter of all new HIV infections (23%). More than 290,000 women are estimated to be living with HIV in the U.S. Almost 40% of all new infections are for younger people, between the ages of 13 and 29.

Fact:
2009 marks the year that stigmas start to change, politically. President Obama lifts the travel ban that had previously prohibited HIV-positive people from entering the U.S. In 2010, China followed suit.

Fact:
“Treatment as prevention” is declared as the Biggest Scientific Breakthrough of the Year in 2011 by Science Magazine, as studies published indicate a 96% reduction in transmission amongst heterosexual couples practicing sex without a condom, where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not. Current HIV treatment, antiretroviral therapy (ART), if taken accurately, prevents transmission from person-to-person sexually, and has contributed to the amazing rate of only 1% of HIV-positive mothers in the UK having HIV-positive infants. Currently, the World Health Organization gathered that 8 million people in low and middle-income countries have access to ART, but there are still an estimated 7 million people in developing areas that have no access to this life-altering treatment.

Fact:
20, 676 people were reported living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago at the end of 2009.

Fact:
There were a reported 6,690 HIV/AIDS-positive women living in Illinois in 2009; 271 women were diagnosed in this same year, making up roughly 20% of all cases reported in our state. Nationwide, as of 2006, there were approximately 278,000 women living with HIV/AIDS. Someone diagnosed as being HIV-positive at age 35 today has a life expectancy of 72. It is no longer seen as a death sentence or an impediment to a long, happy life.

Fact:
Gay and bisexual men make up only 2% of the population in the U.S., but account for 61% of new infections in 2009.

Fact:
In 2010, the U.S. government released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the first real comprehensive plan (believe it or not) that it had ever put together to directly address the epidemic.

Fact:
In 2011, the government dedicated $27.1 BILLION dollars in the fight against HIV/AIDS, both locally and abroad…52% of it dedicated to care.

Fact:
The new Illinois state budget, released in the Spring of 2012, slashes funding for HIV/AIDS programs by a whopping 42%

Fact:
It costs $400,000, per person, to treat HIV over a lifetime. Every month, 1,000 young people are infected with HIV in the U.S. The populations that get hit the hardest are the ones most unable to provide care. We have a social responsibility to mitigate the damages. This is not just a health issue, or a civil rights issue, or a poverty issue. This is economic. It’s on all our shoulders. Prevention education and regular testing saves lives and budgets. It’s just good policy to support clinics.

Fact:
2 million people die as a result of HIV/AIDS every year.

The basic truth is this: HIV/AIDS is preventable. Not a single person needs to be infected next year. Blood transfusions are tested, clean needle exchange programs are in place, ART treatment almost eliminates transference between mother and fetus, and condoms are everywhere. It comes down to funding, knowledge and compassion. When large public figures, such as the Pope (in 2005 and 2009), make wide ignorant statements such as coming out against condom use in Africa and  claiming that the distribution of them actually exacerbates the problem…well, we’re in troubling times, to say the least. In 2007, the Archbishop of Mozambique actually claimed European manufacturers of condoms were deliberately infecting them with HIV to spread the virus around Africa. One in every 8 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Mozambique. In South Africa, someone dies from HIV/AIDS every two minutes. In Swaziland, over 26% of adults are living with HIV/AIDS. We can not afford such misinformation to over shadow the fight. Our LGBTQ family is meshing with our family of women and dying in alarming proportions…and as two of the most under served and under protected groups in this entire world, we must ban together and make a real impact.

This World AIDS Day, let’s focus on change. Support one of the many shows being put on to raise funds, donate time or energy or whatever you have to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, read up on current information, and speak out.

But first, GET TESTED. Let love be the only thing you spread this holiday season.

Some free HIV/AIDS testing clinics near you:

http://tpan.com/services/hiv_testing.shtml
http://www.howardbrown.org/hb_services.asp?id=28
http://www.centeronhalsted.org/testing.html

For more information on HIV/AIDS, and current statistics:

http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/what-is-hiv-aids/
http://www.gmhc.org/files/editor/file/GMHC_lap_whitepaper_0609.pdf
http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/women/resources/factsheets/wsw.htm
http://aidschicago.org/pdf/women_factsheet_2010.pdf
http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/hiv/en/index.html
http://www.kff.org/hivaids/upload/3029-12.pdf
http://www.hivaware.org.uk/be-aware/timeline-of-hiv.php

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About Leah Schein

Leah is a born and bred Chicagoan, and considers herself extremely fortunate to be raised by amazing liberal parents in Logan Square. Coming from a long family history of equality activism, the crazy world of politics feels like home to her. Her upbringing allowed her to fully appreciate her love of tacos, and provided the support needed to be independent and insane. She is a happy survivor of the public school system, all the way through her undergrad years, culminating with a BA in anthropology. Her love of travel and all things adventurous led to the pursuit of a Master of Science from sunny ol’ England, where she happily grasped a conservation degree and ran off to live in a number of rain forests to research nocturnal primates. Through the amazing diversity she was fortunate to be raised amongst, she has an unwavering appreciation of all cultures and peoples, and has used this to form the foundation of her outspoken support of civil rights. You may have seen her running around Boystown/Tuna town over the last decade, or at events she volunteers at for the Human Rights Campaign. It’s possible you spied her at the Silent Film Festival. That strange woman getting into a wrestling match in the leaves on Foster Ave beach at 3am…that definitely wasn’t her. She couldn’t be more excited about sharing her love of science, and it’s role in our daily lives, with the community she loves. Nerds are cool, people. They drink martini’s too.

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