What’s It Going to Take to Get Us to Zero?

Kellee Terrell at TheBody.com discusses a new approach toward HIV/AIDS awareness.

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Written by Kellee Terrell

Oh, it’s that time of year again: World AIDS Day.

And while each year is accompanied by some sort of theme that aims to incite people to do something or be more aware of a certain aspect of this fight against AIDS, this year’s mantra of “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS-Related Deaths” really intrigued me. It’s a simple, yet incredibly complicated idea that advocates and people living with the disease have been striving toward for 30 years.

Let’s just look at transmission rates.

Given that 33 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS, including 1.2 million people in the U.S., what will it really take to achieve zero new HIV infections? And have we learned from past mistakes to help us achieve this in our lifetime?

This year alone, we have seen some interesting developments aimed at reducing infections from scientific, grassroots and educational standpoints. But I must be frank: It was only a year and a half ago that the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy was released, and I remember that quite a few advocates balking at the goal of reducing new infections by 25 percent before 2015 (from 56,300 to 42,225). Of course, the lack of increased funding to actually make this happen played a huge role, but the issue remains the same.

If reducing 14,000 infections in the U.S. is considered difficult, getting to zero new infections worldwide, especially in the developing world, might be asking for a miracle. And I don’t say this to be a downer, because aiming high is the only way to get us out of this pandemic. But it’s important for us to look at our current situation and be realistic about the possibility of making this dream our reality.

Just looking at the U.S., we have so many obstacles standing in our way. To name a few that push this disease further into the closet: conservative lawmakers and constituents who view this epidemic as a moral issue as opposed to a public health crisis; a lack of funding and support for lifesaving policies such as needle exchange and comprehensive sex education; a broken health care system that makes itself too hard to access for those at the highest risk; doctors’ own biases about who needs to be tested; and silence, stigma and misinformation about the disease.

Now add in issues such as poverty, racism, homophobia, gender oppression and the overall lack of compassion for people living with the disease, and it’s easy to see how, 30 years later, this epidemic continues to run rampant in this country. And it’s not a secret as to which communities this disease runs rampant in: the ones that are the most vulnerable, the most fragmented and with the least amount of power, influence and options.