World AIDS Day: Education and treatment vital

Today is World AIDS Day. It’s worth paying attention to. Because that disease is still with us. You know — the one no one wanted to talk about.

Two people I loved died of AIDS in the 1980s and early ’90s, when AIDS was first being discovered and then shushed here in America. David and Paul were young, talented men.  One was particularly close to my own small family and his loss still impacts us. David’s heart was so big. He was a professional ballet dancer and artist. Weeks after graduating from college, where he had returned to earn his art degree, he died from AIDS. It was a shock, because he had been doing so well. But treatment then was still new. His didn’t work. His kindness has never been replaced, and among those who suffered greatly from his death was an adolescent girl. He was the father she never got to have.

It’s been 21 years since we lost David. I have a friend who was diagnosed with HIV within the last year.  My friend is fortunate that treatment has come so far, though he still has challenges.

The theme for today’s World AIDS Day is “The Time to Act is Now.”  How? The U.S.  government in July released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020.

“Based on scientific and technological advances in the past five years, new guidelines and recommendations have expanded the number of options for prevention … Over the next five years sustained effort is required to realize the promise of these and other scientific advances, and to adopt and embrace emerging beneficial research findings. These may include the availability of sustained release antiretroviral agents either for PrEP or for treatment, new developments in microbicides or vaccines, or more effective delivery of HIV care services… HIV information should be universally integrated into appropriate educational access points,” the 74-page report reads. PrEP is pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication used to assist HIV-negative people reduce the risk of becoming infected.

The report includes pertinent information on HIV prevention; systems to link people to care; and plans for a  more coordinated national response to what it calls “the HIV epidemic.”

“Americans deserve scientifically accurate, easy-to-access information about HIV transmission and prevention,” the report states.

NYSUT’s higher education members are among those helping to do just that. To help “End The Epidemic,” an ETA Dashboard was designed to “measure, track and disseminate” HIV and AIDS information here in New York. The project was funded by the state Department of Health and was set up and is maintained at Hunter College and the School of Public Health of CUNY– where academic and professional staff are represented by the Professional Staff Congress, a NYSUT affiliate. The project is in collaboration with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Educating the public also comes from those on the front lines of providing health care. NYSUT has members who are nurses who work in hospitals, and as visiting nurses. Some of the people they care for have HIV or AIDS. NYSUT respiratory therapists and occupational therapists help AIDS patients as well.

Today is also a day to honor the work that they do.

“As a union representing many health care professionals and visiting nurses, we help many individuals afflicted with the devastating effects of AIDS and those whom they love. Our thoughts go out to those individuals,” said Paul Pecorale, NYSUT vice president who oversees health care professionals.

According to the World Health Organization, there is good news:

  • Between 2000 and 2015, new HIV infections have fallen by 35 percent. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 24 percent with some 7.8 million lives saved as a result of international efforts that led the global achievement of the HIV targets of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Expanding Antiretroviral (ART) to all people living with HIV and expanding prevention choices can help avert 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.
  • WHO says that last year 1.2 million people died from HIV-related illnesses. At the end of the year, there were 36.9 million people living with HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It targets the immune system, weakening it against diseases such as cancer. In its most escalated form, it becomes AIDS.

“On Dec. 1, we spend time remembering those who have passed, honor those currently afflicted and continue our promise to beat this disease,” said Pecorale. ” It is critical we, as NYSUT members, continue to educate all about HIV and AIDS.  We need to understand the facts about HIV and eliminate all stigmas and discrimination against those who are living with the condition.”

Click here to find locations for HIV testing.

According to WHO, 34 million people have died from AIDS. Thirty. Four. Million. They all matter.

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