The 1980s were full of crazy hair, outrageous parties, influential music, and life events that have shaped the culture and understanding of all Americans and the world beyond our borders.
Yet, under all the hairspray and some of the greatest movies ever made was an underlying sickness afflicting the population few were willing to recognize: HIV/AIDS.
HIV and AIDS swept across the world, affecting many in the LGBTQ community first, giving it a homophobic designation that was easy to brush off by those in political power.
This inactivity and stubborn refusal to face the challenge head-on has led to more than 70 million people being infected with HIV and about 35 million deaths from AIDS.
With such a significant impact on the global population, it is encouraging that the United States Government stepped up to bat in 2010 with a National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and again in 2020 when that strategy was revised.
While they had been providing funding since 1986, it wasn’t until 2003 when President Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
The only question left is, how has this initiative worked out?
The World Stops for a Student
In 1985 an Indiana teen ended up getting HIV from a blood transfusion as a treatment for Hemophilia. He drew worldwide attention because he was a child and did not fit the narrative the media was trying to craft.
He became the spokesman and public face of the disease for a while, even drawing support from international superstars like Elton John.
So much focus was placed on this innocent child that the error of our ideals finally reached the steps of the White House when Ryan, a student, passed away in April of 1990.
Shortly after, President George H.W. Bush signed the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides services for more than half of the people in the U.S. diagnosed with HIV.
In 2019, 88.1% of those program recipients were virally suppressed, exceeding the national average of 64.7%.
We could call it good at that last point. We could say the world finally stopped for a moment to pay attention to a young white American child, and help was provided in his name for the entire population. But that would be unfair to the millions of others afflicted and dead.
The United States Government National Health Initiative: HIV/AIDS
An estimated 1.2 million Americans live with HIV, and 1 out of 8 people do not know they have it. Although infections have declined by roughly 18% from 2008 to 2014, HIV continues to spread.
In response, the U.S. Government released a national strategy in 2010 and ratified that strategy to include 3 primary goals:
- Reducing new HIV infections
- Increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV
- Reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities
In 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a new national initiative for Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S., where $117 million will be spent for 195 health centers and towards the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.
What about the rest of the world? The best way to attack a problem is at its root source. The HIV infection stemmed from human contact with a type of chimpanzee in Central Africa.
So, if that is where the virus is coming from, why haven’t we dedicated more to stop the spread at the source?
The U.S. Global Response to AIDS
The truth is, we are spending quite a bit. PEPFAR is the U.S. Government’s response to the global epidemic. It represents the most significant commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.
We split our funding between offering services, testing, and research through many different government agencies and partners around the globe.
By the end of 2020’s fiscal year, PEPFAR had provided HIV testing services for nearly 50 million people.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) represents the most extensive public investment in HIV/AIDS research globally. We are committed to not only finding a cure but also help in the prevention of the spread.
Our African Sisters and Brothers
South Africa has the highest burden of HIV/AIDS in the world, with an estimated 7.1 million people living with HIV.
Since 2004, USAID has delivered most of the more than $5.6 billion invested in South Africa’s response to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. This is due in part to PEPFAR funding.
Even with those numbers, there are challenges to getting the proper care for those infected with the virus. South Africa is a naturally rich, culturally beautiful country with diverse people.
They also have extreme power distance between those that have money and those who do not. In addition, the effects of apartheid, civil war, and public health standards have left difficulties in servicing the country as a whole.
Our greatest weakness in the fight to eradicate this epidemic rests with our ability to target the areas of most concern.
We need to stress on the ABCs of HIV/AIDS. We need to lower the costs of treating an infected person and ramp up spending on testing efforts.
We also need to consider empowering more women to finish school in Africa. Education is still the silver bullet to many global issues.
The single most important factor associated with lower levels of risky behavior was the number of years women remained in school.
The fact remains that when a woman is educated, empowered, and able to live an independent life, she is bound to make wiser decisions for herself and her body.
The same could be said for any gender that is provided the human right of knowledge.
Where Do We Go Next
The ability of our healthcare infrastructure to continue fighting this virus will remain in the financial support and open-mindedness to new preventative measures.
We as a nation, must set aside preaching unverified ideals and beliefs for simple science.
Safe practice prevents disease. Greater access to affordable healthcare saves lives. Helping our international partners helps our citizens in the long run. These are facts, not beliefs.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota