World AIDS Day

[Content Note: Racism; homophobia; class warfare.]

Today is World AIDS Day, and following are two pieces of recommended reading on this day. They are both difficult but important stories.

One, on the global inequity of how people with HIV are treated: "There's a Major Problem with How HIV Is Treated—And Here's How It Can Be Fixed."
Thanks to antiretroviral therapy — a regimen of drugs that lowers the rate at which HIV multiplies itself within the human body — those with HIV can expect a much longer lifespan than in years past. If people infected with the virus receive immediate antiretrovirals, they can live otherwise healthy lives and lower their risk of transmitting the virus to others. The WHO's website recommends antiretrovirals "for all people with HIV as soon as possible after diagnosis without any restrictions of CD4 counts" — also known as T-cells, the white blood cells that fight infections.

The United Nations is hopeful that antiretrovirals can help end the crisis. By 2020, it's aiming for 90% of people living with HIV to know their status, be receiving antiretroviral treatment and to have achieved viral suppression, or a very low level of HIV within the body. By 2030, it hopes to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic entirely.

But there's a major problem: Of the tens of millions of people living with the virus, only around 9% live in countries where antiretrovirals are provided to all people with HIV directly after diagnosis, according to a new report by a coalition of HIV/AIDS activists. "The 13 countries that offer immediate treatment to all people with HIV represent just 4.4% of the estimated global burden of 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2014," it states.

"It's worse than a double standard," Asia Russell, executive director of Health Global Access Project, which is part of the coalition, told Mic. "It's a complete injustice."
The other, on the way that homophobia and racism still play a profound part in criminalizing HIV transmission in the US: "A Black Body on Trial: The Conviction of HIV-Positive 'Tiger Mandingo'."
Many prosecutors defend HIV laws as offering just punishment for behavior that can help transmit the virus. But critics say the laws unjustly place all responsibility on the person with the virus: While Johnson faced up to life in prison, his partners bore no legal liability, even though they all willingly engaged in unprotected sex acts during casual hookups with "Tiger."

More fundamentally, AIDS advocates say, the laws are outdated and harsh. If decades-long sentences ever were appropriate, they say, they aren't anymore, given the tremendous medical advances in HIV care. Indeed, many epidemiologists and AIDS advocates say the laws — which single out HIV — can actually fuel the epidemic by making people afraid to get tested and treated, and by fostering the dangerous belief that only the HIV-positive person is responsible for preventing transmission of the virus.

But what propelled Johnson's case into headlines as far away as Australia was the volatile combination of race and sex epitomized by his own screen name, Tiger Mandingo.

...[The prosecutor] dismissed any suggestion of racial bias. His office had reviewed HIV prosecutions in St. Charles County and found that only two of the six defendants, or 33%, were African-Americans — clear evidence, he said, that there was no racial bias. But in Missouri, blacks make up less than 12% of the population — and in St. Charles, less than 5%.
I strongly recommend reading both stories in their entirety.

Please feel welcome and encouraged to share in comments other things you're reading and/or ways to mark World AIDS Day.

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