With last week’s news that the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), the world’s first AIDS organization, would be no more, I feel strongly this marks only the beginning. The second wave of AIDS is coming.
AIDS organizations are about to go through a major restructuring, both in the United States and around the world. In the United States, sadly, it’s because we no longer are taking care of our own.
Funds are frighteningly scarce during these hard economic times. Corporations that in the past have helped fight the disease must be made aware how critically necessary their funds are — and that the need is immediate. Usually the big dogs win; the smaller ones get the scraps. This includes the AIDS organization in my hometown of Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
What’s both amazing as well as tragic is that across our nation the “new” measure of success is the number of HIV-positive clients who maintain an undetectable viral load. The national average is around 25 percent. My hometown AIDS organization, OASIS, reports a viral suppression of almost 80 percent. However, OASIS is about to close its doors due to lack of funds. Sadly, it appears success does not guarantee continued funding. On the contrary. In this case, good work and excellent results are met with, “Who cares if you are a beacon of how to do it right? Close your doors and turn in the keys.”
NAPWA used to be a big dog, but became so thin and frail it was starved to death. Why was the voice of people living with HIV and AIDS silenced? Why was the helping hand cut off?
If the AIDS communities in the United States and in other nations do not come together — and work together — to win the war against AIDS, then the second wave of this epidemic is inevitable.
The inevitability of the second wave is not always apparent because many of us are too scared to look at what’s staring us in the face. Others are too frightened to admit this could happen. But it can and, unless the current course of funding is changed, it will.
AIDS’ second wave will come in phases. The first phase will be an increase in positive HIV test results. In other words, when the hidden epidemic does appear, it will show itself as full-blown AIDS.
The second phase will attack an aging HIV population who, because of drug resistance, can no longer benefit from the medications currently keeping them alive. These drugs work for them today, but will they tomorrow? Do we want a repeat of the ‘80s and ‘90s? Unfortunately, it’s happening every day. We just don’t want to talk about it.
The third phase centers on pharmaceutical companies, which are repackaging old drugs rather than creating new ones. In addition, fewer companies are focusing on AIDS drugs research and many are dropping out. Remember, when persons living with HIV become resistant to a class of drugs, that’s it. They must find other ones – that is, if any are available.
The AIDS epidemic has been around for almost 32 years, and the number of HIV-positive cases in the United States has not decreased. Worldwide, we can expect the number to grow, as some countries are performing fewer HIV tests and many have stopped altogether. Why? Because if a patient tests positive, ethics and morals require treatment.
Fact: Overall funding for HIV in the United States and globally has gone down. Yet, people testing positive for HIV in the United States is increasing. Worldwide, the United Nations claims, the number testing positive for HIV is decreasing – but the U.N. neglects to point out that’s probably because fewer tests are conducted.
Today, there are more than 10 million people worldwide in need of life-saving AIDS drugs.
Let’s look at the second wave another way. We now know that being on AIDS drugs stops the spread of HIV by more than 96 percent. Let’s assume that one-fourth of the 10 million people worldwide who are not on treatment are having unprotected sex. Are they spreading the disease? Damn right. So let’s go ahead and add another 2.5 million people to that 10 million. Then repeat the calculations with more than a quarter million people in the United States who aren’t aware they’re HIV positive. They are spreading the disease further.
We’re not taking care of our own. There is infighting and disorganization, made worse by a lack of cohesiveness and focus. When the second wave is upon us, we will have only ourselves to blame.
I’m not sure how many more closings of AIDS organizations I can handle. It’s just too painful.