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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.

We can break the HIV epidemic for good in the next 5 years — but we all have a role to play in it.
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Gates Foundation

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 number of times HIV has been contracted through saliva or by contact with a toilet seat is 0. All images from The Stigma Project, used with permission.

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 Outdated.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.

HIV does not equal AIDS. Here's a helpful guide from The Stigma Project.

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.


Chelsea Clinton knows. Image by The Stigma Project, used with permission.

World leaders have a plan to get new HIV infections to drop by 89% and AIDS-related deaths by 81% by 2030.

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, a fast-track plan has been created to end the epidemic by scaling up approaches to working with specific locations and populations in 30 countries.

"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.

Image by The Stigma Project, used with permission.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to disrupting online hate and misinformation, and the group Anti-Vax Watch performed an analysis of social media posts that included false claims about the COVID-19 vaccines between February 1 and March 16, 2021. Of the disinformation content posted or shared more than 800,000 times, nearly two-thirds could be traced back to just 12 individuals. On Facebook alone, 73% of the false vaccine claims originated from those 12 people.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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