Every year on Dec. 1, millions don red ribbons to symbolize their commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS. But more needs to be done worldwide during the rest of the year.In Florida, the reported number of HIV cases in 1997 was 61,787. The number of deaths caused by AIDS was estimated to be at least 3.1 million worldwide in 2002 alone.
In Africa the disease has reached pandemic levels. In some areas the infection rate is as high as 39 percent and it is the continent’s leading cause of death for people ages 25 to 44, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When two out of five people are infected with AIDS, it has an adverse effect on the rest of society, creating economic turmoil on top of the suffering directly caused by the disease.
Even under such grim circumstances, the help that such regions are receiving is questionable at best. A recent case involved supposed patent infringement when African nations attempted to import generic drugs to save money by not having to buy the same drugs with brand-name labels.
It is understandable that drug companies want to make a profit; they are, after all, as much a profit-oriented enterprise as any other corporation, but to do so at the expense of an entire continent that is descending into chaos as millions suffer from a disease that will be deadly if not medicated is unacceptable.
Another instance where AIDS prevention was undermined was when Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo issued an official statement for the Vatican in October 2003 that suggested condoms would not prevent AIDS and other diseases but are also ineffective in preventing pregnancies.
Such actions are more than counterproductive. By sending these messages, the work done since the first cases of AIDS were identified in 1981 are undermined to an extent that caused European health ministers to issue a statement last week stating that teenagers do not feel the need to protect themselves against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as they do not see it as a threat anymore.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said, “AIDS can be prevented” and promised $15 billion in aid for Africa over the next five years. Despite that, bureaucracy and red tape have prevented the funds from being delivered on time.
Foreign policy-wise, this presents an opportunity for the United States. By helping AIDS relief not just at home but abroad, millions could be saved while at the same time improving the United States’ image. Such an effort would be a vast undertaking, but the alternative should not be acceptable.
It would be more than sad to have to associate the red ribbon worn on Dec. 1 not with compassion but rather with millions who were shut out and left to die due to red tape.