Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ Commission Recognizes World AIDS Day

In 2022, 630,000 human beings died from AIDS including more than 4,000 people in the U.S. Globally,
more than one person died from AIDS every minute — almost triple the 1988 rate, the year of the first
World AIDS Day. There are two main differences between 1988 and now. Today, the rate is declining,
and has been since 2004, when about 2 million people died from AIDS. And today, because of
antiretroviral therapies, we are on the pathway to ending AIDS.

This year’s theme, “Let Communities Lead,” is not just an opportunity to recognize community leaders’
contributions, it is a necessary condition for ending AIDS. In the 1980’s and ’90’s, it was LGBT
community activists in the U. S. who demanded that the time period for drug development be
shortened. The Women’s Caucus of ACT UP demanded that the definition of AIDS include HIV related
illnesses that occur in women. Community activists in South America, Africa, and Asia demanded that
big pharma lower the cost of antiretrovirals. The drug development time frame was accelerated, the
definition of AIDS was changed to include diseases specific to women, and the cost for anti-HIV drugs
came down from $25,000 per person per year to $70 per person per year.

Since the beginning of the HIV pandemic, more than 40 million people have died. In 2022, there were
39 million living with HIV. According to UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), if 95%
of people living with HIV know they are infected, and 95% have access to antiretroviral therapies, and
95% who take antiretroviral therapies achieve viral suppression, we will end the AIDS pandemic. When
HIV is undetectable, it is not transmittable.

In Allegheny County, we are not there, yet. During the years 2018-20, the number of new cases of HIV
infection remained steady, just below 80 cases per year and 89 new cases were reported in 2021. Of
those 89 cases, 24 had concurrent AIDS diagnoses, suggesting a possible long-time period without HIV
testing for those individuals. During 2018-20, there were 38 HIV/AIDS related deaths in Allegheny

The persons living with HIV but who have not been tested are the individuals who can be reached when
communities are central to the effort. Support for Pittsburgh area community-based organizations that
deliver services for persons with HIV must be provided at the levels needed to reach 95-95-95.
Of the 39 million people living with HIV, 9.2 million (24%) do not have access to the drug therapies they
need. The barriers to drug access continue to be driven by discrimination, racism, HIV-stigma and
criminalization, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism.

In her World AIDS Day message, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, stated,

“Protect everyone’s human rights. Right now, anti-human rights, anti-women’s rights, and anti-
democracy forces threaten the work and lives of our brave community leaders. But we must be hopeful and remain vigilant in defense of human rights. I applaud the growing wave of countries who have been
repealing the harmful colonial laws that criminalised LGBTQ people simply for being who they are. To
protect everyone’s health, protect everyone’s human rights. … Communities are not in the way, they
light the way.”

We can end AIDS by 2030. But only if we “Let Communities Lead.”


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