The International AIDS Conference and My Friends With HIV/AIDS

Last week two famous “Bills” made their way front and centre to the International Aids Conference in Toronto.  Former President Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke at the conference.  Each has made significant contributions to the world’s fight against HIV/AIDS.

And a fight it is.  According to AVERT.org, an international AIDS charity, in 2005 there were 38.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS.  Also in 2005 people newly infected were 2.8 million while 2.8 have died.

The following are more HIV/AIDS statistics from AVERT.org.

More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans.
By the end of 2005, women accounted for 48% of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and for 59% in sub-Saharan Africa.
Young people (15-24 years old) account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide – around 6,000 become infected with HIV every day.
In developing and transitional countries, 6.5 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs; of these, only 1.3 million are receiving the drugs.

It’s pretty scary really.  HIV/AIDS is also growing so mature versus what it used to be.  I can remember a time when AIDS was something that the homosexual community caught.  Gay men seemed to be getting sick back in the early 1980’s and nobody could really figure out why.  At the time being gay wasn’t as politically correct as it was now.  The gay community fought hard for some type of recognition of the problem.

Since that time HIV/AIDS has exploded in the third world.  However, there has been some push back in the developed world.  Anti-viral drugs have helped people with HIV, giving them life far after their original prognosis.  The real problem lies in the under developed world.  As the statistics bare out, Africa is being decimated by HIV/AIDS.

All of this seems so black and white.  Where it gets personal is when you know someone who is HIV positive or has died from AIDS.  I have known two people.  They were good friends of mine.  One is dead and I’m not sure about the other one.

My friend who died of AIDS went to graduate school with me.  He was from Africa.  He was a heterosexual male with a wife and family back home.  He visited my farm in Dresden.  He studied with me in Guelph.  Word came years later that he had died of AIDS.  I had no idea.  Who knew?  Somewhere along the line he became HIV positive and died of AIDS.  In the Africa of the late 1980’s he probably didn’t have much of a chance.

My other friend who is HIV positive I’ve lost track of.  We also went to college together.  He was a gay man although he never came out to me.  For whatever reason I think he felt my “rural sensibilities” would prevent me from understanding how somebody like him could be gay.  Who knows?  He may have been right.  People fail to realize that society in 2006 has evolved from those days 25 years ago.

The bottom line from my perspective was it became increasingly obvious my friend was gay.  So when he called me one evening requesting a visit because he had something “important to tell me”, I thought the gig was up.  Instead when I arrived at his apartment, he told me he had acquired a “terminal disease.”  I asked him what and he said AIDS.  His t-cell count wasn’t where it should be.

I immediately told him he was my second friend who had HIV.  He seemed shocked, asking me question after question about my friend from Africa.  In any case, I asked him did he have any idea how he contracted it.  He wasn’t really sure but he said he had gotten careless a few times in the past.  In my mind, I could only imagine.  Needless to say both of us didn’t want to go there.

As time went on, we drifted apart.  Our lifestyles were just so different.  However, I’ve never felt right about it.  Did we drift apart or did my “rural sensibilities” get in the way?  Was there a certain discomfort over the whole issue, which I just couldn’t come to grips with?  What’s happened to my college friend?  Is he attending that World’s Aid Conference in Toronto?

I don’t know.  But I do know Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t there.  That was hard to believe.  For whatever reason this HIV/AIDS tragedy still doesn’t resonate in some circles.  But it should.  Some parts of the world are withering away because of it. The challenge for the rest of us is to recognize that.