World AIDS Day • December 1, 2021
Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission Honors Those Who Have Died from HIV/AIDS, Elevates the Dignity of Persons Living With HIV, and Joins The Call To End The AIDS Epidemic By 2030
Forty years ago, in June 1981, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published an article describing five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in previously healthy young men in Los Angeles. All five were gay. Two had died. The report was the first article describing what soon would be called AIDS. Two years later, a retrovirus was identified as the cause. In 1990, 350,000 people died from AIDS. In 2005 and 2006, AIDS killed 1.95 million people each year.
Nearly 80 million people worldwide have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic, and more than 36 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses, including 680,000 people in 2020.
On the 33rd World AIDS Day, December 1, 2021, the City of Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission joins all people of goodwill in remembering those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS, honors those who are living with HIV, and joins the call to end the persistent inequities that are slowing the progress towards the end of AIDS.
Governments, policy-makers, and science have the tools needed to end the AIDS epidemic. There is no cure for AIDS and there is no vaccine, but there are highly effective anti-retroviral therapies that make the virus undetectable in a person with HIV and untransmittable to others. However, there is not universal access to these life-saving medicines and the barriers continue to be driven by discrimination, HIV-stigma and criminalization, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism.
Seventy-one (71) countries criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity, and 11 countries have a death penalty for the same. Fifteen countries criminalize gender identity and/or expression of transgender people. Anti-LGBTQIA+ prejudice and the disempowerment of women and girls are among greatest barriers to ending the AIDS crisis by preventing many persons living with HIV from revealing who they are or otherwise seeking testing and/or treatment.
Thirty-five (35) states in the U.S. have HIV criminalization laws, including Pennsylvania, where an HIV+ sex worker who “loiters in or within view of any public place for the purpose of being hired to engage in sexual activity” can be convicted of a felony, but a sex worker who does not have HIV would not face a felony charge. Pennsylvania’s prostitution law defines sexual activity as “Includes homosexual and other deviate sexual relations.”
In 2020, approximately 1.5 million (down from 3 million in 1997) people became infected with HIV worldwide, 50% of who are women and girls. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), key populations are at far greater risk of becoming infected with HIV. UNAIDS reports that the risk of acquiring HIV is 35 times higher among people who inject drugs, 34 times higher for transgender women, 26 times higher for sex workers, and 25 times higher among gay men and other men who have sex with men. These key populations and their sexual partners account for 65% of HIV infections worldwide.
Globally, 73% of persons living with HIV have access to anti-retroviral therapies, but only half of all children with HIV have access to these life-saving medicines.
The AIDS epidemic does not look the same in different regions and countries. According to UNAIDS, in sub-Saharan Africa young women aged 15–24 years are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men, and approximately 4,200 adolescent girls and young women aged 15–24 years became infected with HIV every week in 2020.
In 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 37,000 people became infected with HIV in the United States. Today, there are an estimated 1,200,000 people living with HIV in the U.S., 13% of whom do not know that they are infected. Male-to-male sexual contact accounts for 65% of new infections. Among all new HIV diagnoses, African-American and Hispanic/Latino people are disproportionately affected.
In Allegheny County, there are approximately 3,000 persons living with HIV, and the number of newly reported cases of HIV has trended downward in recent years — less than 100/year since 2017.
On this World AIDS Day, the Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission applauds Mayor Peduto for adding Pittsburgh to the 300+ Fast-Track Cities world-wide that are committed to ending the AIDS, tuberculosis, and viral hepatitis epidemics by 2030. And, we honor our region’s caretakers, community activists and organizations, HIV/AIDS researchers and healthcare providers, and all those who are committed to ending the AIDS epidemic.
The AIDS epidemic can end if we are dedicated to the human rights of all people, ending HIV stigma and criminalization, ending discrimination against key populations including LGBTQIA+ people—in particular people of color in the U.S., and empowering women and girls, such that testing for HIV, the accessibility of anti-retroviral medicines, and the prevention of new infections is not impeded by ignorance, prejudice, greed, or indifference.
When there still are persons with HIV who don’t know they are infected or don’t have access to life-saving and life-extending medicines and care, then 2021 is not much different than 1981. We know what lies ahead for them. We have come too far to continue to let that happen.
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Kathi Boyle • Nekia Burton Tucker • Denise Desimone • Jam Hammond • Billy Hileman • Sue Kerr • Bruce Kraus Britton Mauk • Lenny Orbovich • Richard Parsakian • Chauntey Porter • Christopher Robinson • Marcus Robinson Sarah Rosso • Luca Salerno • Tiffini Simoneaux • Rev. Deryck Tines • Guillermo Velazquez
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