World AIDS Day gains celebrity endorsement

Katien and Katien

As the seasons change, so do the colors of awareness. Most socially conscious individuals own a rainbow arrangement of tiny ribbons. Breast cancer’s popular pinks and the meaningful purples of domestic violence transition to a deep crimson red as HIV/AIDS attracts our attention in the month of December.

This past year, the United Nations found 2.6 million people contracted HIV and 1.8 million died from AIDS. Welcome to World AIDS Day 2010 and the realities of this incurable disease.

Today, more than 33 million people are living with HIV, and many of them are children. While we have seen a significant decrease in the rate of infection, this pandemic is far from over.

In a highly publicized effort to combat misinformation and overcome stigmatization, the World AIDS Campaign (WAC) has been raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education for more than a decade. They also reserve one day on the calendar to remember everyone affected by HIV and AIDS. Each December, reports are reviewed and goals are refocused to implement a more effective plan to keep people healthy across the globe.

The 2010 theme of this World AIDS Day is “Universal Access and Human Rights.” Miscommunication and financial need keep 50 percent of individuals living with HIV from receiving medical treatment in developing countries. Women at risk for sexual violence are also at greater risk for AIDS. Marginalized people like sex workers, IV drug users and transgender persons are more likely to contract HIV when they are denied resources that could help keep them safe. And, as implied by this year’s theme, every human should be able to protect themselves because they have a right to wellness.

But what would a campaign be without celebrity endorsement? reports mega-stars like Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga will not tweet until one million dollars is raised for families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. Usher, Serena Williams and others will also do their part, keeping the social networks in suspense for the “Keep A Child Alive” charity, CO-founded by songstress Alicia Keys. Kim Kardashian and other celebrities have gone so far as to pose in a coffin, signifying their digital deaths, and only your donations can bring her back to life.

But the situation is far more serious than “Keeping up with the Kardashian.” Award-winning filmmaker Michealene Cristini Risley directed the documentary “Tapestries of Hope,” a must-see film, now available on DVD. The fearless director travels across the world to tell the story of Betty Makoni and her Girl Child Network (GCN), which stands defiantly in the midst of AIDS and the dire situation in Zimbabwe.

Here, reality is almost unbelievable. Natural healers, the country’s more trusted and affordable medical advisors, have been telling their patients that virgin blood will cure AIDS, unleashing a culture of rape that also guarantees death for many young girls. Makoni, the director of GCN, has created a safe space with more victims than beds, while tirelessly begging these “doctors” to end their frightening prescription.

While uncovering this tragedy, Risley was arrested and deported. Her project was almost abandoned after it was seized by the authorities. But Risley, moved by what she saw, hasn’t stopped trying to rally support for this very worthy cause.

So what can we do? Start by wearing the red ribbon, which is almost unrecognizable, compared to the others. Let’s make sure no one ever asks, “What’s the red one for?” ever again. Whether you care about the digital lives of celebrities or not, donate money to organizations like “Keep A Child Alive” or the “Tapestries of Hope” fund.

I also recommend supporting AVERT. Based in England, this non-profit is a leader in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Their community program builds partnerships with local organizations committed to ending the spread of disease and caring for those already infected. They’re also working tirelessly to provide comprehensive education about prevention, as well as advocating for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS. With a global focus, and impact, they do good work.

Now is a prime time to get involved. The U.S. recently reinvented itself as a key player in the fight against AIDS — but very ironically. As soon as President Obama lifted the global gag rule, expanding the types of health facilities that could use funds from the United States, a report from the Health Department of Washington D.C. revealed the city had more cases of HIV infections than West Africa. Obviously, we are just as susceptible as the rest of the world. HIV/AIDS is yet another issue with an external agenda that needs to be turned inward.

This World AIDS Day also marks the first year the Catholic Church has taken a more scientific approach to understanding the spread of disease. In the past, the Pope had spoken out against condoms, accusing them of “increasing” AIDS across the world. But just last week, the Pope finally voiced his support for condoms — at least for male prostitutes. In exchange for erroneous statements like “condoms don’t work,” this statement will do, at least for now.

We’ve made great strides in the past 12 years, expanding a day of remembrance into 365 days of awareness. For once, both the President and the Pope have HIV/AIDS on their radar and they’re doing something about it. Even Kim Kardashian is doing something about it, why don’t you?

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