It would seem to be quite strange that after all this time AIDS is still as urgent to me as it always was. Thirty-six million dead later, it still haunts me. I am a fossil with the engraving of the fallen leaves upon me.
I lived though the worst of it and I still feel that it’s bad. I still know that 4,500 people die every day of AIDS. I am still angry that the world's response is so bureaucratic and uncaring. I still think that there is something I can do about it. It still hurts my heart the way it did 33 years ago.
Now, I travel the world inaugurating new programs. I administer a huge organization. Most importantly, now we have tools to fight this disease. People can live long, healthy lives with the virus. But, in so many other ways, nothing has changed. Stigma still trumps public health; people with HIV are still rejected by people they love; only a fraction of the people worldwide who need treatment are getting it; we still don't tell the truth about how you get HIV and what you must do to prevent it. In fact, we minimize what it means to have HIV.
I never saw the point in counting how many people I lost to AIDS. I refuse to contribute to building memorials until after it is all over. I plead guilty to being behind the times. AIDS is no longer ‘fashionable’ the way it was. It is now considered to be in the pop a pill category — who can get worked up over that? I can and I do. The virus is as deadly as ever — we are just holding it back. We are more careless about contracting HIV then we have been in decades. And, if you dare to scream about it, you are still considered too extreme.
The history of AIDS still has many chapters to be written. Who knows how the current period will fare: Will it be a temporary period of complacency? Will it be the time the whole effort stalled out? Did we have the will to see the fight through until the end?
The younger generation does not necessarily want to hear our war stories and we can't make them. But that is no excuse for not telling the truth. We are still flirting with extreme danger. We are not taking seriously enough what the consequences of our silence will be. So, I will continue to rain on the parade of complacency, when necessary. I will still be the fly in the ointment of bureaucratic indifference. Most importantly, I will continue fighting.
AIDS is now, and will always be, a moral litmus test. If you truly love humanity you cannot turn your back on it. AIDS is a cry for acceptance and love. The future will tell us how that cry is ultimately answered.
Michael Weinstein is the President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation