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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 30, 2007

Take the lead

Every year, the World AIDS Campaign sets the theme for World AIDS Day, a unifying thread tying observances together from the First World to the Third World.

In 2007 and 2008, that theme is “Leadership.”

Throughout the 26-year history of the global AIDS pandemic, leadership has always been from the ground up. When Ronald Reagan refused to even mention the word “AIDS” as the death toll was mounting, it was activists at the street level taking the lead, calling his administration to task for their malign neglect.

AIDS service organizations across Ohio, and across the country, were formed by people concerned about their health, and the health of their friends. It was not by government edict that these groups sprang into being, it was through the efforts of those affected by HIV, seeing its ravages in their communities.

In keeping with the history of the plague and the role of the “common person,” the World AIDS Campaign has created the Stop AIDS Leadership Pledge. Available on their website to be filled out online or printed out and mailed in, it’s an opportunity for the “little people” to take a stand and say what they are going to do to stop the disease, and to hold their leaders accountable for their action or inaction.

Over the next year, the leadership pledges will be visible on the website’s community forum, where those of clergy, artists, and other people are already posted.

“When thousands of people demonstrate what they are doing as leaders to help stop AIDS, the pressure for those funding and orchestrating national and international responses becomes immense,” the World AIDS Campaign states in its release on the Stop AIDS Leadership Pledge. “Not only will these demands send powerful messages, but they will generate more media and public awareness for AIDS and universal access.”

“The more awareness of what is at stake in order to achieve universal access, the more likely we are to succeed,” it concludes.

That is at the very heart of the matter. Despite being a quarter-century old in the “developed” world, and having gone unrecognized for much longer in Africa, AIDS continues to spread, continues to kill. Affluent suburbanites in America do not see the faces of AIDS in Africa, in Asia, in South America. Most do not even see the faces of AIDS in their own inner cities.

The fact remains that only a fraction of those who need pharmaceutical “cocktails” to keep the virus in check get them. Even fewer can afford them. The Bush administration can pledge billions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa, but that still leaves millions of people untreated there. It also does nothing to help the people who are dying while languishing on waiting lists for government-subsidized drug programs here in the United States.

With the presidential election less than a year away, the leadership pledges have the potential to positively influence the people who are vying to lead the “free world” for the next four years, eight years. While the view of Democrats as sympathetic and Republicans as turning a deaf ear to calls for help may seem true, any candidate will listen if something is shouted loudly enough and often enough. There is a spectrum among the candidates in either party, and their reactions to the demands of the citizenry may be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This is the seventh World AIDS Day issue that the Gay People’s Chronicle has printed, the seventh time an entire issue has been dedicated to educating people about HIV, how to avoid being infected, how to find out if you are, and what to do when the test results come back.

It would be nice to think that seven years from now, or 14 or 21, we won’t need to run this special issue any more.

For that to happen, though, someone must take the lead.

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