December 1, events in Washington, DC and around the world commemorated
World AIDS Day. Throughout this week we focus on the terrible toll
this plague has taken, and continues to take, in our communities,
across our country, and worldwide. It is a time when we reflect
on our shared vulnerability in the face of this greatest global
threat to human security.
mere two decades since its discovery, AIDS has become the worst
health crisis in the history of the world. The toll of the disease
is staggering. More than 24 million people worldwide have died.
At least 40 million more are currently living with HIV/AIDS. New
estimates from the United Nations, the Center for Disease Control,
and others, indicate that the global pandemic is still in its infancy.
They warn of rising infection rates and the impending devastation
of entire countries.
theme of this year's World AIDS Day is the elimination of stigma
and discrimination. This is sadly appropriate, for it is now clear
that, while AIDS can be beaten, the world is losing the battle because
of these prejudices. By stigmatizing those living with HIV/AIDS,
societies seek to distance themselves from the disease, rejecting
the notion that this is everyone's problem. And it is blatant discrimination
- on the basis of race, class, gender and sexual orientation - when
governments deny the urgency of this global crisis because of who
the victims are.
is "ground zero" of the global AIDS crisis. Sub-Saharan
Africa is home to just over 10% of the world's population, but more
than 75% of the world's HIV/AIDS cases. Africa has been hit hardest
by HIV/AIDS because poverty has left its people most vulnerable,
and because racism has impeded an urgent international response.
This year alone, 3 million Africans will die of AIDS. This is equivalent
to the entire population of Chicago.
in the U.S., it is also Black people who have been disproportionately
affected by HIV/AIDS. While the availability of anti-AIDS treatments
has cut the death rate in recent years, infection rates remain especially
high among communities of color. Though African-Americans represent
only an estimated 12% of the total U.S. population, they make up
almost 38% of all HIV/AIDS cases reported in this country. In 2000,
the rate of reported AIDS cases among African Americans was more
than twice the rate for Hispanics and 8 times the rate for whites.
in Washington, DC, the rate of HIV/AIDS is 12 times the national
average. Almost 1 in 20 D.C. residents are living with HIV/AIDS.
African-Americans represent 60% of DC's population, but more than
75% of its HIV/AIDS cases.
Georgia, HIV/AIDS has also been disproportionately concentrated
in the Black community. Blacks represent just 28% of Georgia's population,
but accounted for over 76% of its AIDS cases this year. In California,
Blacks make up less than 7% of the population, but account for almost
24% of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Houston, the AIDS rate has risen dramatically in the past year,
particularly in the Black community. While the "state of emergency"
declaration by Mayor Lee Brown in 1999 has encouraged more people
to get tested, and to get treated, the HIV/AIDS rate among Blacks
remains disproportionately high. Up to 60% of HIV infections in
Harris County have been
among Black people. New York City is home to 3% of the U.S. population,
but 16% of its HIV/AIDS cases. There are more people living with
HIV/AIDS in New York City than in any other metropolitan area -
more than Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami combined. There are
almost twice as many HIV/AIDS cases among Blacks as among whites.
is the same factors that fuel the AIDS crisis everywhere. Poverty
and inadequate access to health care leave particular communities
vulnerable. Discrimination and racism enforce double standards that
devalue the lives of people living with the disease and those at
greatest risk. AIDS has become the Black plague. For while it is
a global threat that does not differentiate by race or class, and
is not confined by borders, the fact is that it is mainly killing
Black people. And this is the simple reason why this disease has
been allowed to develop into a massive global health crisis, when
it can, in fact, be defeated
year, world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York to
adopt a global strategy to defeat HIV/AIDS. They supported the creation
of a new Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, a "war chest"
that would raise and disburse new monies to support effective HIV/AIDS
prevention and treatment programs in the world's poorest countries.
It seemed that the international community was finally ready to
make the necessary, and overdue, financial commitment to fighting
HIV/AIDS. However, the new Global Fund has been undermined from
the outset by the stinginess of rich country governments. This vehicle,
which represents the best chance for defeating the global AIDS crisis,
is now almost bankrupt, because the U.S. government refuses to contribute
its fair share to the war on AIDS.
will not be beaten without a strong global commitment and a massive
injection of resources. This must be directed to support the efforts
of those most affected by the pandemic, particularly in Africa,
the epicenter of the global crisis. So far, the U.S. government
has failed to demonstrate the leadership it will require to win
this war on AIDS.
of State Colin Powell recently accepted the position of the AIDS
activist community, declaring that "the biggest problem that
we have on the face of the earth today" is the HIV/AIDS pandemic,
not terrorism. If rhetoric were resources, we could applaud such
observance of World AIDS Day emphasizes the truly global nature
of this pandemic. And it reminds us that the solution needs to be
Booker is executive director of Africa Action, the oldest human
rights advocacy organization on African affairs in the US. www.africaaction.org