The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
I can still recall the helpless feeling when I was told at 26 years old that I had AIDS. My 3-year-old daughter was born uninfected. This was a grace of God. Pregnant women were not screened for HIV when I was pregnant.
Today, pregnant women are tested as part of the standard of care, and transmission rates to children in the U.S. are less than 1 percent. This is progress towards an AIDS-free generation.
Today marks the 26th World AIDS Day. It is a day when we renew our fight against HIV and AIDS, show our support for people living with HIV, and remember and honor our family members and friends who lost their lives to this horrible disease.
As I can attest, HIV/AIDS affects people of all genders, ages, races and sexual orientation. It is estimated that more than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1-in-7 are unaware of their infection. Across the country 45,000 people become infected with HIV each year, 518 In Washington state. About 1-in-4 new HIV infections in the United States is among the ages of 13-24.
This year’s World AIDS Day theme is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.” The theme is fitting and represents how far we have come, as well as the challenges we still face. As a person living with HIV, I am very familiar with our progress in this fight and what we have left to do to reach our goal of an AIDS-free generation.
We are fortunate in Washington state, as overall infection rates have been in decline for a decade. Much of this is due to success and innovation in life-saving antiretroviral drugs, advances in HIV vaccine research, access to health care and medicines, regular HIV testing and HIV prevention education. A few years ago the idea of an AIDS-free generation seemed unachievable; however, with our recent successes and growing momentum, our goal is within sight.
What do we need to do to end AIDS? We must focus our attention and energies on strategies that work. We need to partner with public health officials, governments, nonprofits, corporations and individuals to use every tool available, including:
- Increasing healthcare access to all.
- Supporting HIV-positive individuals in their treatment adherence.
- Supporting research, development and innovation in new treatments and medicines.
- Encouraging consistent HIV testing.
- Increasing HIV-prevention education
We can and will achieve an AIDS-free generation!