Just*in Time: 7 Reasons Why We Still Fight


Put simply: It’s Not Over. And we’re not ready to put AIDS activism in a museum! Here are seven reasons why HIV/AIDS activism is still important.

Photo by Jessica Bolton

1. HIV is not a thing of the past
People think HIV is a problem of the eighties and nineties, but it is still an ongoing public health issue. And it has been going on for longer that you might think. Did you know HIV first reared its ugly fucking face in the United States in the late 1960s? A teenager from Missouri named Robert Rayford passed away from pneumonia, but at the time doctors were very puzzled about his other symptoms as well. After much debate in 1988, an autopsy found the presence of HIV antibodies and lesions from Kaposi’s sarcoma. Rayford has been described as the earliest case of HIV/AIDS in North America having been infected with a virus closely related or identical to HIV. How can we let a disease that has been around that long in the United States still manage to kill Americans?

2. New generations can become complacent
I remember how AIDS-related conditions would kill people less than a year after a person had been diagnosed. This was truly sad, and many people had to live through watching their friends pass away, attending a funeral of a fallen friend a couple times a week, and/or being a caretaker for someone dying of one or more opportunistic infections. We should understand that we can and should never forget our past and how HIV has impacted us. The more we remember our past, the more of a chance that we will not repeat it.

3. There is still no cure
In the early days, a cure was promised. It did not come. The promises stopped. Now researchers are still dedicated to finding preventative and therapeutic vaccines, but they are more careful about reporting on their progress.

4. Every little bit counts
In the federal budget there is never enough money for HIV. If we want to end this epidemic, we need to raise the funds. Never sit down and complain about something—get off your ass and do something. Even on Facebook you can start a virtual fundraiser and have proceeds go to a HIV/AIDS organizations that might even be giving services to a person you know.

5. Stigma is still alive and well
We can decrease HIV stigma by educating the general population. But stigma will always be around until there is a cure. I see it day in and day out. People don’t want to be friends with others because of HIV or date them or even take the time to listen to them. This is appalling, and it needs to stop. And, as an ally, it starts or stops with you. You are the one that either can be an asshole or a good friend.

6. Firing of HIV advisory officials
With certain leaders firing or removing HIV professionals from their posts, there needs to be a more activism. The more and more leaders we have in our fight, the more social change can occur. It will not occur in a hurry, but it will cause the start of a discussion. These discussions may seem monotonous, but, if someone is listening, that starts the spark to fuel the fire.

7. Underserved communities
Do you actually think that everyone has the same opportunities to have access to medical treatment in this country? Think again. According to the Health and Human Services (HHS), despite improvements, differences persist in healthcare quality among racial and ethnic minority groups. Also, people in low-income families also experience poorer quality care. Just an FYI: Disparities in quality of care are common. For example, adults aged sixty-five and over received worse care than adults aged eighteen to forty-four for thirty-nine percent of quality measures. African Americans received worse care than Whites for forty-one percent of quality measures. Latinx/Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic Whites for thirty-nine percent of measures. Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indian/Alaskan Natives received worse care than Whites for nearly thirty percent of quality measures. Poor people received worse care than high-income people for forty-seven percent of measures. The more disparities we have with our care, the more illnesses and deaths will occur. The end game is to Get to Zero!

Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].