When most people think about AIDS/HIV, they think of Africa, Asia or Russia. In the United States, AIDS/HIV does not occupy the same degree of attention that it did in the 1980s. But AIDS is being increasingly found among American women and minorities. According to Associated Press, nearly half of the 40,000 new infections occur among African-Americans.
More than 1 million Americans are believed to be living with HIV/AIDS, according to a government report issued earlier this year. In 2003, some 18,000 people died from AIDS. These numbers demonstrate a need for Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act, which funds care and support services for people with HIV who do not have health insurance and other resources. The law, previously funded at $2 billion, has expired but Congress is expected to take up reauthorization bills next year.
It is somewhat understandable that AIDS/HIV on the home front is not as noteworthy as African pandemic. More than 25 million people in Africa have AIDS/HIV, which portends profound political and economic implications for the region as well as intense human suffering on a personal level.
On the occasion of World AIDS Day, there is cause for optimism. The number of people receiving AIDS treatment in sub-Saharan Africa has increased eight-fold to 400,000 under President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. More than 4 million in the region need immediate AIDS treatment, which means there is far more work to do. Still, this progress is noteworthy.
These advances were made possible, in a large part, to the Bush administration's previous commitment of $15 billion over five years for the emergency plan for AIDS. The plan envisions treatment for 2 million people, prevention efforts for 7 million people and care for 10 million people. One particularly promising part of the prevention mode is a Mothers To Mothers-to-Be Clinic in South Africa, which works to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their unborn children. Among young African women, many contract AIDS as victims of sexual violence.
Domestically, more needs to be done to raise the public's awareness about AIDS/HIV. It remains a signficant public health issue. Anti-viral therapies have enable HIV/AIDS patients to have a better quality of life than in the past, but there is no cure for the disease. Despite that knowledge, some people make risky lifestyle choices such as intravenous drug use and casual, unprotected sex. The only foolproof method of prevention is abstinence.
As President Bush observed in a brief address in Washington in observance of World AIDS Day, 40,000 new infections in the United States each year are "not inevitable, and it's not acceptable." He's right. It is hoped that a growing number people worldwide will become attuned to the role personal responsibility plays in the spread of this devastating disease.