This week we celebrate the 17th anniversary of World AIDS Day. Started in 1988 by UNAIDS, and approved unanimously by 180 countries, its purpose was to show solidarity in fighting what was becoming the worldwide pandemic we see today. How far have we really come, though, in the past 17 years? While the United States has promised help to a variety of global HIV/AIDS programs, we have not yet fulfilled those promises. The Global Fund remains severely under-funded. President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, while also under-funded, has been used as a tool to promote ideology over science in international AIDS prevention programs. Some progress has been made in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, but AIDS continues to ravage countries like Botswana, where the average life expectancy has decreased from 72 to 39 in the past 20 years. Yet when we review the international community today, we see the looming threat of a “second wave” of the AIDS pandemic. India, China, Eastern Europe and Russia are the new faces of AIDS as prevalence rates continue to rise with no stop in the foreseeable future.

While it is important to work on the global impact of the pandemic, we as Georgetown students cannot forget what is happening right outside the front gates here in Washington, D.C. It is estimated that 5 percent of the District’s population is infected with HIV. Over 15,000 D.C. residents have been diagnosed with AIDS, yet the government continues to severely cut the budgets of organizations like the Whitman-Walker Clinic that work directly with communities affected by HIV and AIDS. Whitman-Walker provides healthcare and social support services for those in D.C. who are already infected, while providing free and anonymous HIV testing all over the city. But the clinic has been forced to close some clinics this past year because of budget cuts. The Georgetown University AIDS Coalition hosted a series of events during the week of World AIDS Day to help raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among college students. The Coalition’s “Know Your Status” Campaign kicked off this week with over 25 Georgetown students getting tested for HIV. The campaign aims to show that it is important for college students to get tested and that it is OK to do so, even as stigmas against those living with HIV are still rampant in this country. The FDA approved this past February Oraquick, a painless, needle-free, HIV test that gives back results in less than 20 minutes and will make it easier for Americans to find out about their status.

Also this week, the Coalition teamed up with GUPride to show a partial screening of “Angels in America,” a movie that outlines the beginning of AIDS in our own country. It also held a panel discussing HIV/AIDS in the community of color, a community that is disproportionately affected by the disease and hugely ignored in domestic discussion. Finally, the Coalition hosted a benefit in Gaston Hall for the Whitman-Walker Clinic on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1,. Singers, dancers and poets from our diverse Georgetown community came together in the fight against AIDS at the Coalition’s UnityLIVE concert. AIDS is not a simple problem and we must make a commitment to do all we can to stop it. Not everyone has to be lobbying on the Hill, or even volunteering at a local AIDS clinic. But everyone can help in their own way. Hoyas can start by educating themselves about the complexity of the issues and the AIDS Coalition provided that forum during our World AIDS week. But we cannot simply limit the fight to only World AIDS Day. We must be conscious of the worldwide struggle against HIV/AIDS every day. Let’s make Georgetown a campus where everyday is World AIDS Day. If we don’t take the fight seriously now, we will only pay the consequences of our complacency later. Sarah Audelo is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and board member of the Georgetown University AIDS Coalition.

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