Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
This month marks the 30th year of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first case of which would become known as HIV/AIDS. More than 50,000 people in the United States are infected with HIV annually, and today, more than 33 million people around the world are living with HIV. Two million people across the globe die every year from AIDS. Over 600,000, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, aunts and uncles in this country have died due to this pandemic. Like others marking this milestone, some of the people who have been lost over the past 30 years are individuals that I had the privilege of calling my friends.
There have been many positive efforts in combating this devastating disease, but more work needs to be done. Last year, the President announced the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States. This strategy focuses on combinations of evidence-based approaches to decrease new HIV infections in high risk communities, improve care for people living with HIV/AIDS, and reduce health disparities. Also, the Administration increased domestic HIV/AIDS funding to support the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and HIV prevention, and to invest in HIV/AIDS-related research.
But as the President has said, “government cannot take on this disease alone.” That is why, as part of the Champions of Change initiative, the White House invited nine inspiring HIV/AIDS advocates for a roundtable discussion to meet with Administration officials including Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) Director Jeffrey Crowley, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Howard Koh, and key staff from HHS, DOJ and HUD. The roundtable was intended to provide an opportunity for people living with HIV to reflect on their own lives and personal experiences as the Nation reflects on what has been achieved over the last three decades. It is also an opportunity for us to continue shining a light on this pandemic.
As someone living with HIV, this is very personal for me. We stand on the shoulders of many that are now gone, and those who continue to fight today. The “Champions” that we met with are living examples of both the progress and challenges we have faced over the past 30 years. We are making progress—the number of new infections has declined among infants born with HIV and injection drug users, but we are now seeing rising infections in gay and bisexual men. Re-engaging the public, particularly the LGBT community, in prevention education and fighting stigma is crucial.
This anniversary is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS. We owe it to those that are no longer with us, and those like these “Champions” and the thousands like them that are fighting every day. We also owe it to the next generation. We invite you to learn more about the work of these Champions of Change in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Brian Bond is Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement.