Today is World AIDS Day. It is a day that has been set aside to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS.
Like many people, I have been very ignorant about HIV and AIDS. I understood that I could not contract this disease via casual contact and knew it was contracted through unprotected sex or sharing of needles. Beyond that, I didn't know much. Over the last several years, I've learned more and now it's time for me to help end the ignorance and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.
AIDS is also something that has touched our family. My brother-in-law died from AIDS about 9 years ago. No one in the family knew he had AIDS. Did he know? I would suspect he did, but didn't want to deal with the stigma that surrounded a diagnosis of AIDS. Fortunately, his wife and daughter are not HIV positive as a result, but it is the total lack of education that causes people to stay quiet. Unfortunately, staying quiet also means fewer people are educated.
I found some interesting statistics via Avert.
It is estimated that 16 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa is the area most effected by AIDS. Approximately 10% of the people in the world live here and of all those in the world infected with HIV, 68% are in sub-Saharan Africa. That is an astounding number.
Because Ethiopia is so near and dear to my heart, let me quote some more statistics.
At the end of 2008, 980,000 people were living with HIV in Ethiopia. 530,000 of those people were women and 92,000 were children. The number of children orphaned by AIDS was 650,000. One other thing to keep in mind is that these statistics qualified adults as anyone age 15 and up. Sadly Ethiopia ranked 8th on the list. Yes, 7 other sub-Saharan African countries have more people infected with HIV, which means more deaths from AIDS and more children orphaned.
A sad reality to all of this is that HIV is completely preventable and for those who have HIV, it's very treatable. However, lack of education and the unavailability of antiretroviral medicines are killing millions of people every year. Millions of these people are leaving behind children, also infected with HIV. Unless these children are given access to treatment, they too will eventually die.
What can we do to help?
Adopt - Advocate - Enable
First and foremost, we need to educate ourselves and others so we can end the stigma that surrounds HIV and AIDS. We need to advocate for those living with HIV and AIDS.
For some, adoption may be an option. Are you able to open you heart, your home and your life to an orphan living with HIV so they have the opportunity to live a full and long life?
Are you able to donate time or money to enable a HIV+ parent somewhere in this world the opportunity to get the necessary help they need?
There is an organization that specifically addresses Adopt - Advocate - Enable. That organization is Project Hopeful. If you want to learn more and help end the stigma, please visit their website. In the meantime, please watch this short video to begin educating yourself on HIV and AIDS.