Sunday, 1 December 2013

World AIDS Day #25

It’s a familiar ritual now 25 years later with the high drama of the AIDS apocalypse somewhat past, at least here in the richer parts of the world. HIV continues to present a knotty problem to societies everywhere, and although there are no ready-made, “silver bullet” solutions, political will (lack of) and spending priorities (ass-backwards) are still the key drivers of new infections, disease and death.

I attended the main AIDS Day rally in Times Square Sunday afternoon, and it’s progress of sorts to see the big Bank of America logo flashing its cozy endorsement over the event from its giant screens. But it’s hard to know what that actually means given the financial sector’s takeover of our federal government and the 1%’s successful skewering of fiscal policy to starve social services of all kinds so that they can continue to vacuum up all our wealth. If ending AIDS takes money, and you refuse to make any available, how does that ‘support’ the cause?

A lot of the rally speakers seemed to be stuck in a time warp, and given the level of trauma among the old-timers, I don’t exactly blame them. But it was refreshing to hear some explicitly political rhetoric among all the sloganeering and recollections of the deceased. Jim Eigo, a veteran of the original ACT UP whom I have come to know slightly, told the crowd that many tools are now available that can drive new infection rates down. It’s just a question of whether governments and those who run them are willing to make it happen and spend the money to do it.

The potent movement that grew up around the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s is not likely to reappear in anything like its prior form, and we should be glad that those awful times are long gone. People are no longer losing most of their friends and terrified of their own sex lives, and that’s a good thing even though it makes mobilizing interest in the topic tough, even among gay men in this city (despite the fact that one out of every six or so is already HIV-positive). The bulk of the attendees at today’s rally were clients and employees of the AIDS service organizations boosted by the thin ranks of activists and volunteers.

Nonetheless, there is plenty of interest, agitation, organizing, sympathy and still a good deal of clout. I’m particularly encouraged to see the glossy gay club & nightlife magazine NEXT [pictured above] dedicating a thoughtful feature article to the topic in this week’s issue, which included profiles of four HIV-positive local guys who braved the ongoing stigma attached to their diagnosis that plagues the scene as much as ever.

It’s clear that facile exhortations to condom use and cautious monogamy aren’t sufficient to bring down the new infection rates, and there are a plethora of additional prevention tools in the growing toolbox: pre- and post-exposure prophylaxsis, microbicides, viral suppression (known as TasP, Treatment as Prevention). They’ll require new programs and a resuscitated campaign of community education, and the city’s record on the latter has been particularly weak for a decade. Now is the time for a techno-political approach that combines the old militancy with specific, targeted demands based on solid science. We have a more sympathetic mayor coming into office and a fairly reliable ally in the governor’s office. Real progress could be within our grasp, and as New York goes, so goes the nation.

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