We can break the HIV epidemic for good in the next 5 years — but we all have a role to play in it.
A lot of progress has been made in the fight against HIV. Now it's time we talk like it.
It's truly remarkable.
In 2015, if you're HIV-positive and able to access treatment, you can live a life as long and as healthy as someone who's HIV-negative.
Over the past few years, medical advances in HIV treatment and prevention have changed what it means to live with the virus. Heck, now there's even a little blue pill that can prevent it altogether.
HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was.
But, despite huge medical advancements, the stigma and misconceptions around HIV remain as powerful as ever.
The way many of us still talk and think about HIV/AIDS doesn't reflect reality.
Those stereotypes we all hear? Outdated. The myths? They're just that — myths.
HIV has been stigmatized for a long time, and that fear and stigma continues to be a big roadblock to reducing infections and beating the global epidemic.
Negative attitudes and prejudice against HIV make it way less likely for people to get tested, seek treatment, or disclose their status with partners. Public misinformation and fear contribute to an environment that sees HIV in an inaccurate and often insulting light.
At the height of the AIDS epidemic, the disease was seen as a punishment for participating in "deviant" behaviors like non-hetero, non-married sex or drugs, and while medicine has advanced, regressive attitudes have yet to catch up.
If we want to get rid of the shame and discrimination around HIV, we have to start with how we talk and write about it.
Specifically, we need to familiarize ourselves with the difference between HIV and AIDS.
The good news? We're still making a lot of progress on the medical front.
Just this year, Cuba became the first country declared to have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV. 17 other countries and territories across the Americas (including the United States!) show they may have done the same.
New global HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000, and AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 42% since 2004, according to UNAIDS.
It's great to hear, but we can do even more.
World leaders have a plan to get new HIV infections to drop by 89% and AIDS-related deaths by 81% by 2030.
"We have bent the trajectory of the epidemic," said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. "Now we have five years to break it for good or risk the epidemic rebounding out of control."
We're at a tipping point toward reversing the HIV epidemic — and the next five years will determine if it happens.
UNAIDS reports that if prevention and treatment efforts are scaled up drastically in the 30 countries that account for 89% of new infections worldwide, we have an incredible shot at reversing the epidemic. If not, we're likely to end up with higher rates of new HIV infections than we have today. A lot is riding on the next five years.
"If we invest just $3 dollars a day for each person living with HIV for the next five years, we would break the epidemic for good," said Mr Sidibé. "And we know that each dollar invested will produce a $15 return."
While doctors and the researches are hard at work on the medical side of things, the rest of us could make a huge difference in advancing the cause just by changing the way we talk about HIV and AIDS.
More knowledge and less judgment means approaching HIV and AIDS in a realistic way, without myths and falsehoods keeping us from eradicating it once and for all. It also means we'll all be able to live in a healthier and safer world.
Count me in.