Recent local and national statistics released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Community Health on the rates of HIV infection leading through 2006 are a numerical reminder of what we already knew. The epidemic rages on, and it continues to affect the same groups without a positive budge in funding.
What more does the federal government need?
Lobbying isn't enough. Personal stories aren't enough. Media coverage isn't enough. Thousands and thousands of dead friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers isn't enough.
Will raw, indisputable statistics – showing that not only is the situation still bad, it's worse than we even thought before – be enough to prove that more funding is needed here, in the U.S., to fight a disease that puts so much sympathy into the hearts of so many when it is talked about overseas? Statistics that show that youth infections are up over 10 percent in metro Detroit, that minorities are men who have sex with men are still disproportionately becoming infected, and that the CDC's estimate was off by – oops! – 16,000.
Sadly, probably not.
Ask anyone who works tirelessly to help those who are already sick and educate those who are at risk whether statistics alone will push forward initiatives to fund more prevention programming, medical assistance and safe sex education. The answer will always be no.
Proof isn't enough.
The proof has been there since the beginning of the epidemic that certain groups were unequally affected, but it hasn't helped to get the necessary backing to put HIV prevention in the faces of those who are at risk for it and to put HIV positive people into the care they need. Proof can't change attitudes or stigmas; it can't make a homophobic people compassionate or force politicians with their fingers in their ears and their eyes shut tight to listen and see.
It takes the right people with power who will listen, who will see and who will understand to enact change. It takes state and federal governments that will address a problem in their own country instead of pretending it doesn't exist because it doesn't affect them personally. It also takes a society that will accept people who are gay and, in turn, people who are sick; a society that throws out stigma. If people were allowed to be who they were freely and without guilt, they might respect themselves more – enough to protect themselves, or at least enough to get tested and get help.
More than anything, though, it takes those who already care, understand and accept taking steps to help. If we all talk openly about homophobia and its causal effect on HIV rates, perhaps we can change some minds. We can also vote for politicians who will do what's right instead of ones who will let their narrow-minded, prejudiced backgrounds and advisors dictate that they do. We can volunteer with and donate to organizations like Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, AIDS Partnership Michigan and others. We can participate in our local AIDS walks, coming up this and next weekend all over the state.
We can use our voices and our power in numbers to raise the money when its not there and to elect the officials who will make sure that the necessary support is on its way.