Twilight Walk On World AIDS Day
Wednesday - November 14, 2007
World AIDS Day is almost upon us - Dec. 1. Not on your calendar? I hope it will be.
According to USAID and WHO, as of December 2006 around 39.5 million people are HIV/AIDS positive. More than 25 million others have died of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) since 1981 when it was first discovered, making the pandemic one of the worst in recorded history.
Nowadays, World AIDS Day is often met with a terse news statement citing updated worldwide statistics, then on to the next story. HIV/AIDS simply doesn’t affect Americans like in the 1980s and ‘90s, when the famous, such as actor Rock Hudson, ballet great Rudolf Nureyev, tennis star Arthur Ashe and the not-so-famous were dying left and right from a disease no one really wanted to mention. Elizabeth Taylor no longer makes her impassioned Oscar night red-ribboned pitches and Magic Johnson, the HIV-infected former Lakers basketball player, has a rough time getting media attention for his “I Stand With Magic” campaign for AIDS education.
But HIV/AIDS is still around. It’s still the leading cause of death for African Americans 25-44 years old and the fifth leading cause for whites in that age group (Kaiser Family Foundation). It’s in Hawaii: As of December 2005, Honolulu had 2,069 (6.2 cases per 100,000 people) HIV positive and 1,188 with AIDS. It’s in Asia in rapidly growing numbers. And it’s a pandemic in subSaharan Africa, where it’s created 15 million orphans.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 16 years since Magic Johnson made his stunning retirement announcement “because of the virus I have obtained ...” A collective gasp swept through sports bars across America. HIV/AIDS was a homosexual disease. Is Magic ...? Can he be ...? He wasn’t, but more important than his sexuality was that he wasn’t dying, and to this day, at 45, never even looked sick. Slowly AIDS ribbons came off lapels as people believed the disease, while not curable, was in check. That cocktail of “protease inhibitors,” now known as ARVs, or anti-retroviral drugs, keeps full-blown AIDS at bay.
In the early ‘80s, everyone thought a homosexual French flight attendant brought AIDS from Africa to the U.S. Ironically, just last week the Washington Post reported that after researchers analyzed long-frozen blood samples, they discovered the virus - outside of Africa - actually started in Haiti and spread to the U.S. in the 1960s.
According to CDC statistics, the disease was (and still is) most often transmitted through homosexual intercourse in the U.S. Because of that stigma, not much was done to find a treatment until a lobby group recruited big-name celebs - and until a boy named Ryan White contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. Research money raised through relentless campaigns resulted in ARVs, but not until after many thousands died, some my good friends and colleagues. The Hawaii fashion industry was hard hit in the ‘80s. Talented photographers, fashion designers, artists and entertainers died in agony - many alone and many in denial. A sad story because, in most cases in our aware society, it’s a preventable disease.
But today’s HIV/AIDS saddest story is of children in subSaharan Africa. The disease has wiped out a whole generation of unaware young adults who’ve left thousands of children to fend for themselves in cities and rural areas.
The majority of high school girls there don’t know that what killed their parents is caused by sex, so they become infected and pass the disease through moth-er’s milk to their babies. It’s reported that as of 2005, less than 1 percent of the sexually active urban population in Africa has been tested, even fewer in rural areas, and only 0.5 percent of pregnant women at health clinics are counseled, tested or receive their test results.
Children, even babies, are infected, orphaned and hungry on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya. I’ve met these children. They hide in the shadows, scared, cold, hungry and often sick. A tiny 4-year-old girl sleeping in a dark alley on a city street under scraps of plastic, no food to be found, no protection from men who will abuse her; boys aged 10 and 11 live in an abandoned parking lot cooking scavenged potatoes in a paint can over a small fire. If not rescued to an orphanage, they could die on the streets in awful pain. Their weakened immune systems will attract what are called “opportunistic” infections. They will likely develop a fungus in the mouth and esophagus; possibly a viral disease that can cause blurred vision and blindness, painful swallowing, diarrhea, pain, weakness and numbness in the legs, Karposi’s sarcoma, pneumonia and tuberculosis. If not treated, they will die in around nine months.
Orphanages are the only hope for these innocent victims of AIDS, and they can’t be built fast enough.
This World AIDS Day, please walk with us in the first Twilight Walk for Africa at Ko’olau Golf Course to support the AIDS orphans by raising pledges to expand African orphanages. Go to www.walkforafricahawaii.com for registration and details.
Also remember all those who have died of AIDS and the 3,787 American children under 13 who are HIV positive. And please, if you are at risk, learn prevention and be tested.
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