Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rethinking AIDS

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's world AIDS day, and what are you gonna do about it? Raise a glass to the dear departed? Celebrate your own survival? Ignore it? Sneer a little at the activists that turned pro and pay their rent with it?

Or maybe you'll get off your ass and do something for a couple of hours, like all those dear souls that spend Thanksgiving serving turkey to the homeless so they can feel better about the outrageous amount they just shelled out to redo the kitchen of their brand spanking new co-op.

It's better than nothing I guess. Maybe. I'm still not so far from the puritan I was as a kid when I used to sit in church on Christmas uncharitably despising all the pew-packing people who hadn't been there since Easter, but had turned up in all their scum-sucking hypocrisy to celebrate the birth of a savior they couldn't be bothered to pray to.

I like to think I've relaxed a little since then. I can appreciate a gesture in the right direction, the symbolic act and all that, especially if it comes with a nice fat check in the right pocket.

Still, it would be better if we thought about AIDS more than once a year. After ARV's started keeping people alive in the West, we don't hear as much about HIV except in the context of those starving, warmongering Africans, and a few Asian or Latin American hotspots. And I think after the latest news it will be even less.

Apparently, the UN just re-crunched the numbers, and there aren't as many HIV cases worldwide as imagined. Instead of 39.5 million infected, it's a mere 33.2 million. Let loose the balloons, hire a band, declare it over.

So what if fifteen percent of southern Africa is infected? So what if Europe is now doing what it can to pick up the slack, along with queers in San Francisco and New York? Big deal. Leave it alone. Now that HIV's peaked, it'll crawl under a rock soon and hide, probably in some far away sweltering continent. There's nothing more we need to do. In fact, acting may cause irreparable harm.

I got an email this morning from a friend of mine, a conspiracy theory kind of thing warning about how years of contaminated flu vaccines were causing cancer in the U.S., and how the whole vaccine market was a hoax ruining our immune systems. After all, plagues like whooping cough and TB were already on their way out in the States just from improved hygiene even before those serums got developed and shoved unnecessarily down our gullible throats.

The original author didn't mention smallpox in his list of unnecessary vaccines, or explain what to do when there weren't the means, for instance, to install indoor plumbing and airshafts in a Bangladeshi shantytown.

Not that they wouldn't benefit. They would. And if you could pair that with a vaccine, you'd be in business. That's really the only combination that will work in Southern Africa, where information campaigns have slowed the spread of HIV, but it's still a killer due to the lack of ARV's and the abundance of opportunistic infections -- among them malaria and TB -- that are still on the rampage.

Malaria infects millions each year and kills a huge swathe, mostly children, that are also prey to viruses and bacteria that cause acute diarrhea. People with HIV are equally vulnerable. That's poverty for you, the synergy of diseases.

What's the excuse for Europe? The rate of new HIV/AIDS cases has almost doubled since 1999 with Estonia leading the pack, and Portugal and Britain not too far behind. In raw numbers, the UK had 8,925 newly diagnosed cases last year, with 5,750 in France and 2,718 in Germany.

The European Center for Disease Control blames immigrants, people migrating from areas of the world with HIV epidemics. "Another big driver has been the increase in cases among men who have sex with men."

Recent polls in Britain show such widespread fear and ignorance I have my doubts. One in seven youths in Britain would not stay friends with somebody if they had HIV. Half would keep it a secret if a family member was infected. Only a third of Britons overall worry about getting the disease.

As a result, they're not prepared. And in a few years they may be a case study of how fragile the retreat of this disease really is.

Unlike, rotaviruses, TB, and for that matter, the plague, which can be improved by government action like improved sanitation and housing, HIV is a democratic disease controlled largely by individuals.

We're the weak link, not our toilets or airshafts. We spread the disease through ignorance, fear, and complacency, forgetting just how bad it can be.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com

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