Today marks the 24th annual World AIDS Day, aimed at heightening awareness of one of the most deadly pandemics in history and recognizing the millions of lives that have been lost to the disease. While much progress has been made in preventing and treating AIDS, there is much more to do and the efforts should not waver.
The timing of today's event couldn't be more profound in the wake of a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study noting 1 in 5 of the 50,000 new HIV infections in the United States every year occur among young men who are gay or bisexual. Even more troubling, the CDC reports that even though teens and young adults make up 20 percent of all new HIV infections, most sexually active youths don't bother to get tested.
It is estimated about 33.3 million people around the world have HIV, the virus that can lead to full-blown AIDS. Between 1981 and 2007, some 25 million succumbed to AIDS. Combating AIDS was one of President George W. Bush's singular achievements. His presidency saw the creation of the widely lauded President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, credited with creating prevention programs and providing diagnosis and treatment to millions globally.
President Barack Obama's record on HIV/AIDS is more mixed. While the United States has continued its commitment to PEPFAR, the Obama administration has been criticized by some world health organizations for not increasing funding for AIDS prevention and treatment programs. More money needs to be found. HIV/AIDS does not respect international boundaries.
The full implementation of the Affordable Care Act will benefit AIDS patients, who no longer will be denied insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition. In Florida, HIV/AIDS has become a critical issue. According to the CDC, the state ranks third in the nation with 3,658 new AIDS diagnoses in 2010. And 124,363 AIDS patients reside in Florida, the nation's third highest total.
The indifference to HIV testing among the sexually active young might be traced to the misinformed belief that because of treatment advances, HIV/AIDS has become simply a chronic ailment easily managed with a few pills. But that can be a fatal assumption. About 18,000 people in the United States die from an AIDS diagnosis every year. And nearly 650,000 Americans lost their lives due to AIDS from 1981 to 2009, according to the CDC.
World AIDS Day is a reminder this scourge is all too alive and well around the globe. And its many victims should serve to encourage sexually active people at any age to reconsider risky behaviors and seek testing for HIV.