Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

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.

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  • AVERT says:

    To mark World AIDS Day, international AIDS charity AVERT is asking people to take the ‘AVERT AIDS Challenge’, an online, interactive game found at http://www.avert.org/world-aids-day.htm where people compete to learn more about HIV and AIDS. It’s quick, fun and easy to play or share with family, friends and colleagues using the internet. Take the Challenge!

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    • Harald says:

      Thank you for this very well-balanced airlcte. As a retired medical journalist who was working at the Sunday Times of Johannesburg at the very start of the AIDS-epidemic in South Africa, I have seen many colleagues, friends and contacts in the medical world, especially in the nursing profession, die of AIDS. Mbeki’s mishandling of this epidemic was only one aspect of the way this has been able to spread throughout Southern Africa, however. He contributed greatly to the problem because of his leadership in this regard, but I recall the press conferences I attended of the United Democratic Front before the ANC was unbanned, and where my colleagues and I increasingly started reasing the issue of HIV-AIDS with the comrades’. Often, we questioned why they opposed the very sound medical advice from the South African medical fraternity to promote condom use to prevent it from spreading. The standard answer from all of these leaders was always that it was a disease among white, homosexual men, and the recommended use of condoms as proclaimed by the white medical profession was a plot to reduce the black birth rates’. I still have some of these answers on tape recordings from those press conferences. My dismay only grew as this policy by the UDF and its political taskmaskers the ANC seemed to be set in concrete. And every step which has been taken by the ANC-leadership in regards to the HIV-AIDS epidemic, and now with the co-epidemic of drug-resistant Tuberculosis which now claims some 350,000 lives a year, all remained geared towards this denialist approach. There are several groups who are busy drawing up charges of crimes against humanity against specific members of the ANC in regards this terrible tragedy. Millions of people throughout southern Africa now are dying due to this, because the infections also could spread rapidly from South Africa after Mbeki basically threw open all the borders and effectively turned many neighbouring countries into new South African provinces. The last chapter about this horrible medical crisis won’t be written for many decades to come as countries are struggling to escape from the spiral of these two devastating co-epidemics and the socio-economic after-effects these are causing such as the feral young criminals who are roaming the country without any kind of parental supervision because their parents and guardians are all dead. Growing famine is only one side-effect now seen all across southern Africa. Yes, I have seen many people die of the combination of AIDS-TB. The latest friend I have had to mourn from afar was a fine woman I had seen at work as one of the best community-health nurses in the country, a dedicated, hard-working and well-educated woman. She died within two weeks of XDR-TB. She did NOT have AIDS. That’s the future staring all of Southern Africa in the face. It’s high time to stop debating’ the issue and start facing the fact that the entire sub-continent is being plunged into conditions worse than the Plague which decimated the European population so many centuries ago

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878