World AIDS Day 2011: the beauty of apathy
“Why should I care?” It is a very valid question and one that resonates throughout our campus. Whether the context is the HIV epidemic, the state of American public schools or the gross financial inequality in our country, our campus has come up with increasingly eloquent ways to ask this question. There is more stress and strife about housing selection, the lines in BD and speed of WUFI-S than there is about the issues that are, or are definitely going to be, of critical importance to our generation.
I have crystallized the moment that I was sitting on the couch taking in the NBC Nightly News story on the implications of AIDS on children in sub-Saharan Africa. I asked myself that apathetic question, “Why should I care?” However, I was fortunate enough to find the information that provided me with the means to combat this query. It is clear that we are now witnessing one of the most exciting periods in the campaign against HIV.
While HIV does not discriminate, it has a history of impacting marginalized populations. AIDS was first officially recognized in 1981 in the U.S., and in the context of fear and homophobia, the illness soon became known as G.R.I.D., Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, and often described as gay cancer. Since then, the epidemic in this country has shifted. It now disproportionately affects poorer and marginalized communities and people of color, particularly African Americans. This disease has come to affect individuals of all colors, sexual identities and walks of life.
HIV is an epidemic of global proportions and has direct relevance to our generation. Globally, young people ages 15-24 represent 45 percent of all new HIV infections. In the United States alone, the number of our peers, individuals under age 24, living with HIV amounts to 46,000. Taking all of these individuals and transporting them to St. Louis, you would have enough people to fill the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium to capacity.
However, the direct impact of AIDS on our generation is not solely due to the malevolent effects of the virus. This World AIDS Day signals the beginning of one of the most exciting time periods in HIV and AIDS awareness.
Last month, President Barack Obama lifted a 22-year-old ban on people living with HIV entering our country. This ban had prevented any major AIDS conference from taking place within our borders, due to the restrictions imposed against people living with HIV serving as delegates. However, the AIDS 2012 conference is taking place in Washington, D.C. this next summer and is expected to convene more than 20,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries.
Directly applicable to the excitement surrounding HIV awareness is the outcome of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that was published this last summer. This international research effort found that providing antiretroviral therapy, the medical treatment for HIV, reduced risk of transmitting HIV to another person by 96 percent. This effort, in conjunction with other policies recently outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, provides us with the most realistic opportunity yet to end the global HIV epidemic.
I’m not asking you to drop your commitments. I don’t want you forget about medical/law/graduate school to become an AIDS activist. However, I do want you to realize that HIV is a real, pressing issue. This is one of the most important health issues of our generation and we have the opportunity to live through an exciting time that will hopefully change the course of this epidemic forever. I challenge you to be a part of history by taking action.
Taking action really isn’t that hard or time consuming. It takes different forms for different people. The first step for me was to educate myself on the issue. Education is a painless investment that would exponentially increase our generation’s ability to affect change. The biggest enemy of social action is apathy. The beauty of apathy is that it can be readily addressed, easily dismissed and expeditiously remedied. The end of the HIV epidemic is in sight for the first time since the epidemic’s onset. I ask you all to take the time to learn more about the epidemic so that you have a succinct answer when you’re confronted with the question, “Why should I care?”
Tej Azad is a junior in Arts & Sciences.