World AIDS Day means different things to different people. For some, it is a reminder of those they have lost. For others, it is a comfort to see the world acknowledging their continued existence. Some have the day marked on their calendars every year, while others are only aware when a friend or coworker mentions it, or they see it trending online.
December 1st reminds the world that the fight is not over and there is still a lot of work to do, but it also allows us to look back over the last year and see how far we have come.
Last year, we celebrated 15 million people getting on treatment globally- and that number continues to climb. We have seen more people than ever with suppressed viral loads, more people using PrEP, and the expansion of syringe exchanges in Vermont and around the country. The amount of services and access to services for people living with HIV has been expanding continuously. All of this helps us on the path towards a better life for people living with HIV/AIDS, zero new transmissions, and ultimately an AIDS-free generation.
That is not to say that 2016 did not have its challenges and uncertainties, but in times like this I find it helpful to remember that everyone has the capacity to effect change. Everyone has a voice, and we all have the power to chose who to listen to. Whether your contribution to ending AIDS is taking personal steps towards preventing transmission, or speaking truth to power through political activism, what you do is important.
Every year, the CDC declares a theme for WAD. This year's is "Leadership. Commitment. Impact." They "[call on] leaders to strengthen their commitment to using evidence-based HIV interventions, prevention tools, and testing efforts to help us stop HIV." While it is important for those in positions of power to commit to this fight, we should not discount the impact any individual can have.
The history of the AIDS pandemic has been driven by activists calling for change and fighting injustices, including many from Vermont. From protesting the unfair price of treatment to calling for increased funding, activists have and continue to shape the fight. It is thanks to individuals speaking up for their rights that the Vermont PWA Coalition even exists, and we are forever grateful to them.
But the time for activism is not over. If you are worried about program funding, HIV discrimination, syringe exchanges, the affordability of medication, use your voice. If you cannot speak for yourself, reach out to someone who can (like your consumer advocate!).
The word "activist" may seem intimidating, but being an activist does not always mean getting arrested at protests. It means speaking up for yourself, in whatever way you feel comfortable. It could mean contacting your legislators, sharing your personal stories to combat stigma, or encouraging others to get tested.
On this World AIDS Day, take some time to remember those who we have lost, but also remember those who have fought for the rights of people with HIV. Today is a day that we should all be thinking about what we can be doing to support people living with HIV, spread awareness, and fight stigma. Whether you are HIV positive or negative, you can have an impact.