December 1, 2003, marked World AIDS Day, and it is now 10 years since Elton set up the charity Elton John Aids Foundation.
The term AIDS has now become so everyday that many people have even forgotten what it stands for. Here's a recap: Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome. And World AIDS Day serves as a reminder to us all to be careful and sensitive, tolerant and responsive to the needs of millions who live with the HIV virus that in time turns into the fatal full-blown AIDS.
To mark this date in history and recount some of the achievements and setbacks of 22 years since AIDS was first discovered as a major health risk to all kinds of people, EJW.com Citizen Marian Friedman has sent us this submission, which we were pleased to upload for you. It demonstrates the reaction in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, one of the residences of Elton himself:
Twenty-two years after its discovery, AIDS has outpaced all predictions of virulence, speed and scope. It's become, as Jack Chow of the World Health Organization recently described it, "the premier disease of mass destruction."
How can you possibly put a dent in that? Slowly and steadfastly,
Atlanta-connected health workers say. Person by person, clinic by clinic, government by government, country by country.
"First, you have to get support from the highest political power in every country," says Dr. Carlos del Rio, medical chief of staff at Grady Memorial Hospital and director of Emory's international HIV/AIDS prevention program.
"Without that, it will be a battle of denial and stigma and fear."
From major government agencies and humanitarian organizations to rock-star millionaires, ministers and medical students, Atlanta's imprint on the fight against AIDS stretches far and wide.
'Public health capital'
Emory officials want Atlanta to be known as "the public health capital of the world." It's the headquarters of the CDC and international humanitarian group CARE, Emory's medical and public health schools and the Carter Center -- all of which have major programs and personnel involved in AIDS and global health efforts.
Ongoing theme of hope
Overcoming stigma and discrimination is the theme of this year's World AIDS Day. That's also been an ongoing battle cry of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, formed 10 years ago by the singer and part-time Atlanta resident. John's London-based organization has distributed more than $30 million in grants to 60 countries toward HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
Many working on the Atlanta-global AIDS front live in two worlds -- the country of their birth and the country of their college degree, career or current home address.
Rama Amara, a 33-year-old microbiologist and immunologist from India, is working on an AIDS vaccine for the African strain of the virus.
"It's very satisfying," Amara says of the vaccine development that's been under way for four years. So far, it's proved effective in animal studies, and looks promising in humans. Earlier this year, 30 volunteers in three U.S. cities were injected and no major side effects have yet been reported, Amara says.
If the vaccine passes further rounds of safety and efficacy, it could be available in about seven years."We feel we are really doing something for people," Amara says.
Today is World AIDS Day, and the news, as always, is grim. In 2003, there were more deaths and infections than ever before -- 5 million new cases of HIV transmission and 3 million deaths, according to annual HIV/AIDS global data released by the United Nations.
Despite the rising caseload and deaths, 2003 did offer some bright spots:
* President George W. Bush's five-year, $15 billion emergency AIDS prevention and treatment plan targets 12 African nations and two Caribbean countries.
* South Africa's government reversed its longstanding denial of the disease and pledged to provide free AIDS drugs to every infected resident.
* In Brazil, an extensive AIDS treatment campaign was also launched by its government.
* In Thailand over the past decade, HIV incidence fell 80 percent nationwide following intensive interventions by its government, the CDC, CARE and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
For many Atlantans here and abroad, and for citizens of other nations working for Atlanta-based organizations, every day is World AIDS Day -- a maddening mix of hope and hopelessness.
Hope is all there is sometimes, says Limpho Mokhochane, who lives and works for CARE in Maputsoe, Lesotho. His landlocked country is surrounded by South Africa and is one of the hardest-hit nations in the world by AIDS. About 31 percent of its 2 million people are infected with the virus.
Mokhochane is education coordinator for SHARP, Sexual Health and Rights Promotion. The CARE initiative works to prevent HIV/AIDS, cares for those affected, including orphans, and helps with other community projects.
CARE, a resident of downtown Atlanta for the past 10 years, supports hundreds of AIDS programs in developing countries.
"The story of HIV/AIDS in Lesotho is still a tragic one," Mokhochane writes in a recent e-mail, "but the final chapter has not been written yet, and it is one of hope."