by Julie Davids, Executive Director, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)
NOVEMBER 2006 • Issue 1
What is HIV? HIV is a virus. AIDS is a disease caused by the virus known as HIV.
But these definitions do little to reflect the realities of HIV/AIDS, a pandemic that tracks along lines of poverty, discrimination and marginalization worldwide.
We now know how to prevent HIV. We know how to treat it. We know how to combat discrimination against people with HIV, or the communities that bear the greatest burden of infection.
But that doesn’t mean we do it. Lack of political will means lack of resources means lack of capacity to overcome today’s HIV/AIDS challenges, even as we continue the search for a cure.
For over two decades, people living with HIV and their allies have insisted that “AIDS is a political crisis.” And the politics of this crisis demand solidarity if they are to be overcome.
What is solidarity? Solidarity is defined as a “feeling or condition of unity based on common goals, interests, and sympathies among a group’s members.”
It can seem like there is little hope of unity among people fighting HIV/AIDS. Over the past year in the United States alone, national struggles over the re-authorization of the Ryan White CARE Act in the face of sustained under-funding, as well as new guidelines on HIV testing that pitted long-standing requirements for counseling and consent against aspirations of expanding HIV testing, have widened the fault lines that divide us by region, background, individual experiences, and level of access to resources.
It can be even harder to build solidarity across national borders. Just at the time in which President Bush announced new funding for global AIDS, the first big wave of funding cuts were starting to decimate AIDS community efforts in our own nation. It is understandable that many people in the United States who face very real and very growing epidemics in our families, our communities, and in our towns and cities can feel distanced from the global fight against HIV/AIDS that has captured headlines – but we need to also understand that the headlines have not been matched by adequate funding or effective policies.
The truth of it is, AIDS remains a political crisis.
Cuts to HIV prevention funding in the US, and a freeze on funds for services despite increasing number of people living with HIV in need of care, did not happen because those funds were moved to global AIDS. Instead, those funds have gone to war.
The United States is funding a ravenous war economy, and all sorts of domestic programs have been slashed in the quest for billions of dollars to fight in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If we had a fraction of one day’s military budget, we could fill all the holes in the Ryan White CARE Act, and quell much of the battle over shrinking resources that has been forced upon our communities.
The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) is committed to a solidarity approach in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This newsletter will provide information on key HIV/AIDS issues that affect people in the United States and around the world. We will also provide conversation starters in the back of each issue to help spur discussion of hard topics on these issues in our own communities.
The Spanish language version of this newsletter should reach you within the next month. In the coming months, we will also be releasing every issue simultaneously in Spanish and English. This month’s publication explores the connection between incarceration and HIV/AIDS. Jails and prisons are an epicenter in the AIDS epidemic and globally, as co-factors for HIV infection such as poverty, racism, and drug-use are also co-factors for incarceration. We believe that prison issues should be central to the agenda of HIV/AIDS activists, and hope that this month’s newsletter will serve as a useful tool. Specifically, we suggest the following steps:
1. Use the conversation starter (see page 13) in this newsletter to initiate discussion in your organizations and in your communities about the real cost of prison in the HIV epidemic.
2. If you are a part of an organization, sign onto Stop Prisoner Rape’s Call for Change to support LGBT inmates and detainees (see page 10).
3. Make a financial contribution to South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) to provide much needed support for their ongoing work in support of HIV positive inmates.
4. Contact Sarah Howell at CHAMP Academy (firstname.lastname@example.org / 401-427-2302 x 10) if you are interested in training and technical support on integrating prison and jails advocacy into the mission and work of your organization.
Please contact us with feedback and to let us know how we can provide additional help. Solidarity will build the political will to fight HIV/AIDS.