This week I walked through the Washington DC convention center filled with people who didn't look like they belonged to one another. Millionaires in business suits. Students in jean shorts. Women in saris and sandals. Muslims with head scarves. Gay men with AIDS ribbons. African bishops with collars. Politicians, NGO workers, musicians, rabbis, children, doctors, journalists, sex workers, pastors, scientists. There were more than 20,000 people from every corner of the world who convened together because they actually did have something in common: fighting AIDS.
HIV/AIDS has devastated our world. It is the cruelest of plagues that mocks the immune system, breaking it down so that it cannot survive basic infections that a healthy immune system could naturally fight. Worse than that, it carries with it a social stigma that most HIV positive people would claim is more personally and emotionally excruciating than the actual physical effects of the disease. The virus has taken millions of mothers, fathers, children and friends and has left a continent of orphans in the rubble of loss and grief. There is no current vaccine and there is no cure.
And yet, there has been so much progress since HIV/AIDS entered our human world 30 years ago. Today, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. It is a chronic disease that can be managed with the proper treatment, care and support. Today, an HIV positive woman can prevent passing the virus to her baby. Today, many people living with HIV/AIDS can be open about their status without being ostracized by their communities. Today, it is completely reasonable to believe in achieving an AIDS-free generation. This is REMARKABLE.
We are at tipping point in the fight against HIV/AIDS and we cannot back down. There are still too many people who do not know they are carrying the virus; too many people who don't have access to the life-saving drugs; too many girls and women who can't protect themselves from sexual violence; too many nations that have backed down in financial commitments to the Global Fund; too many fears by people who struggle to move past judgment.
Because HIV/AIDS affects the physical, social, emotional, spiritual and economical health of a person and a community, the fight against HIV/AIDS has required scientists, activists, corporations, development workers, philanthropists, healthcare providers, economists, congregations, and many, many others. They are as diverse as they come. Some of them have been working toward the end of AIDS since it first showed up 30 years ago. And some of them have recently joined the fight with fresh energy and passion. Some of them HIV positive. Some of them HIV negative. All of us HIV affected.
And as oddly matched as we all may seem, it is a beautiful tapestry of broken people who are bound by a relentless commitment to reach the end of HIV/AIDS; and I am so proud to be one of them.