December 1 of every year is World AIDS Day.
It is an occasion to look back at the horrors of the early days of the HIV epidemic, when systems ignored and failed some of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized people just when they needed help the most. Whole communities of young gay men were killed, and communities of color suffered huge losses, as well. This day honors the memories of people that some in society let die alone and almost forgotten. Every World AIDS Day, we make sure they are not forgotten.
It’s also an occasion to look back with pride on what humans can accomplish when we work together towards a common good. There still is no proper “cure” that can be widely practiced, but a few patients seem to have been permanently “cured” through extreme experimental treatments. There is still no vaccine, after four decades of trying. But there is effective and constantly-improving antiretroviral therapy that can extend the lifespan of an infected person to generally match the lifespan of the general population. And Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is now widely available to help HIV- individuals stay that way.
There is still work to do: it’s a near-constant political fight to maintain and expand the funding necessary to accomplish the health and quality-of-life objectives that define a successful response to HIV in communities. Too many people still don’t have access to the medicines they need, or to housing resources—or, they don’t know that such resources are available to them.
It used to be said that if the cure for HIV were a glass of clean water, there would be places on earth we couldn’t reach everyone with that cure. So World AIDS Day is also an opportunity to reflect on the other challenges that accompany and worsen HIV: hunger, lack of safe drinking water, insufficient housing, lack of sex education. All this and more goes into the fight against AIDS, but in 40 years of battling this virus, humanity has never been better-positioned to finally win that fight than right now.
On this World AIDS Day, we at To Proudly Go honor the lives of those who lost the fight, we celebrate the good health of those thriving on effective antiviral treatment, and we gratefully give credit to the activists, healthcare workers, researchers, and others who worked so hard to bring us to this point.