The good news locally about AIDS is that Laguna Beach is no longer the U.S. “capital" of the AIDS-afflicted "” that dubious honor now goes to Washington, D.C.
But the disease is more widespread than it is believed to be, now counting a far larger number of heterosexuals as victims, we learn from local AIDS activists, who say that 91% of new cases are being found in the straight population and one-third are women who contracted it from men.
Those are scary numbers, but the AIDS picture is improving overall.
Worldwide, the number of new HIV infections is apparently declining, to the tune of 17% since 2001, according to the World Health Organization. Yet less than half of those infected are treated, the report says.
Ironically, more people were HIV-positive in 2008 than in 2007: 33.4 million, an increase of .4 million. But that’s also not a bad thing: It’s because people are living longer due to the greater worldwide availability of anti-viral drugs, according to WHO.
The importance of testing cannot be overstated. Yet AIDS testing still has an understandable stigma and fear associated with the disease, despite the fact that the diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it once was.
Here’s an illustrative story: One man who wondered why he was experiencing a weakening in his limbs got tested at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, and found out he has full-blown AIDS. This was a straight man who had been monogamous and did not use drugs. Hopefully with treatment he will be able to live his life with relative normalcy.
Locally, AIDS may be less of a threat, but recent news reports indicate the pandemic is spreading rapidly throughout the globe, with China reporting a tripling of the rate of new infections through heterosexual contact between 2005 and 2007, according to WHO.
Tuesday is World AIDS Day, and we can expect to see black and red ribbons on trees downtown, with the names of those who have succumbed to the disease. Free HIV testing will be offered from 3 to 5 p.m. at Main Beach, and a candlelight vigil will take place at 5 p.m. to honor the lost.
Gone are the days when AIDS was striking down only gay men in their prime. Now AIDS is everyone’s disease.