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Spread of HIV/AIDS: 'Proof positive of injustice'

Published Dec 13, 2007 10:41 PM

It happened as some 3,000 researchers, scientists, health professionals and agency administrators had gathered in Atlanta for the Centers for Disease Control national conference on HIV/AIDS prevention Dec. 2-5. A coalition of grass-roots AIDS organizations, the Prevention Justice Mobilization (PJM), intervened to bring a real solution to the epidemic that has killed millions around the world.

After more than two decades of research, the methods of transmission of HIV are well established. There are effective medical treatments to enhance and prolong the lives of those infected with the disease.

Why then, are the numbers of new infections rising among certain populations, specifically communities of color? Why are so many people not receiving medical treatment?

‘AIDS doesn’t discriminate—but society does’

In Georgia, for example, almost 80 percent of newly infected people are African-American or Latino. It is estimated that 50 percent of Black gay men in major urban areas are HIV-positive. The greatest increase in new infections is among people under 25. AIDS is the number one cause of death among Black women ages 18 to 49.

To the activists with Prevention Justice Mobilization, these facts are proof-positive of social injustice and social and economic disparities. They counter the traditional response to the AIDS epidemic—targeting an individual’s “risky” behavior—by raising the structural “risks” of rates of homelessness, incarceration, domestic and other gender-based violence, lack of access to healthcare, and inadequate wages or income that plague marginalized communities.

These factors are the greatest indicator of who will contract HIV and die of AIDS.

Years of “abstinence-only” sex education, the failure to provide condoms in prisons, and the rejection of needle-exchange programs have only confirmed that scientific and medical solutions are being ignored because of religious and right-wing ideology, class and social disparities, and racist and homophobic prejudice.

On the third day of the conference, PJM members poured out of the Hyatt Regency Hotel to take their message to the streets.

Some 300 people with whistles, flashlights, signs and banners brought the demand for a comprehensive and just prevention program to the many workers and tourists on Peachtree Street at rush hour on Dec. 4.

Hotel and restaurant staff came to the windows and gave a thumbs up. Drivers in their cars honked in support.

Denied a permit to march in the street by the Atlanta Police Department, the marchers nevertheless stopped traffic on this major thoroughfare by crossing back and forth across the street at the traffic lights.

The rally in Woodruff Park included the singing of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The final verse went as follows:

“In the AIDS epidemic, the gov’ment gave to me, NO NATIONAL PLAN—anti-gay bias, a decade of flat funding, a fast track to prison, no decent housing, roadblocks to treatment, silver virginity rings, censorship of science, discrimination, misinformation and a country full of H.I.V.”

The Atlanta march was preceded by actions across the country, from Boston to Austin to Oakland.

In Washington, D.C., on Nov. 30, nearly 200 activists—including community members, students and people living with HIV and AIDS—brought together local, domestic and global demands for critical changes to U.S. HIV and AIDS policies.

After the rally, in a separate demonstration in front of the White House, 40 demonstrators wrapped in red tape—a symbol of the political red tape blocking effective HIV and AIDS action—and wearing shirts that said “At-Risk Youth” and “Hand-tied Teacher” sat in front of the presidential palace and refused to move until the government cut the red tape.

Referencing the three warnings given to advocates conducting civil disobedience before they’re arrested, they chanted, “Warning one, warning two, warning three, warning eight. We won’t leave ’til you cut the red tape!”

All 40 were arrested.

The PJM was initiated by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) in collaboration with ACT UP Philadelphia, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, the Georgia Prevention Justice Alliance, the Harm Reduction Coalition, the National Women and AIDS Collective, the New York State Black Gay Network and SisterLove.

For more information, go to www.preventionjustice.org. Material on the D.C. demonstration is from that Web site.