AIDS has killed more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007. Despite recent and improved access to antiretroviral treatments in many regions of the world, AIDS still claimed 2 million lives in 2007 (270,000 were children). It seems cold to “crunch” some numbers here, but it really does hit hard when you read it.
December 1, 2011 marks World AIDS Day which has been occurring since 1988. It was originally conceived in August, 1987 by James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter, public health officers for the Global Program on AIDS (now known as UNAIDS), at the World Health Organization in Geneva , Switzerland.
Each year has featured a theme with 2011’s being “Getting To Zero by 2015.” The hope is to have zero deaths, (not zero funding which had steadily decreased in recent years) , zero new infections, and finally zero discrimination of those who suffer with it. There will be many events worldwide that will focus on many aspects of the disease including new treatments. No one will be more vocal about how devastating it would be to lose more funding for these antiretroviral drugs that have saved so many lives than Bono. He has worked tirelessly for this cause for many years and this year is no exception. You can find him on television shows like The Daily Show (November 30), Good Morning America and The Ellen Show (December 1) speaking about AIDS, how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
Bono will be the first to say that he is not the hero in this fight. Though he has done so much through his ONE organization, DATA and Product (RED), he has been quoted that the real heroes are in the trenches fighting this devastating disease each and every day. One of those warriors is his friend , Ugandan nurse and AIDS activist, Agnes Nyamayarwo who was our guest speaker at the first U2 Conference held in North Carolina in 2009. For some who may not be aware, Bono was so taken by Agnes’ work to educate people about AIDS in the villages around her while she herself was HIV positive and not healthy. He paid for her and a number of women in her hometown of Kampala to get on the ARV drug treatments. The ladies got healthy and formed the Mulago Positive Women’s Network. The MPWN’s mission is to assist women in coping with the ramifications of HIV/AIDS in their lives. It works to empower its members by providing them with essential information on their health status and by helping them to obtain marketable job skills to support their families.
The main source of income for the women of the MPWN is the traditional African craft items they make and sell at their modest store in Kampala and through their website. I made a personal decision a few years ago to honor World AIDS Day by selling the crafts at a local holiday fair and sending 100 percent of the proceeds back to Agnes and the women. Among the many items I sell are dolls, paper bead jewelry, and even wooden animal statues carved by the children. Two very special items that I featured this year were the beaded Bono bracelets and small friendship baskets. The ladies made the bracelet in honor of the man that literally saved their lives. The small basket (pictured on the website) is often used for storing coffee beans and rice in Africa, but I actually use it to hold my wedding ring. It has a side by side color pattern which represents how two friends walk side by side and support each other. It is a lovely sentiment and both items truly represent the deep and meaningful connection they have with their friend, Bono. If you would like to purchase these or any of the items to support the women and their families especially during this holiday season of giving, please go to their website or get more information by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
I now have a special connection with Agnes and the women of the MPWN. It has made the “numbers” become real faces just as Bono wanted to do when he took Agnes on the Heart of America Tour to launch the ONE campaign in 2002. He , too, made those numbers become real people. AIDS does not discriminate. It takes men, women, and children of all races, creeds, and countries. We are all the faces of AIDS.
It is my wish for Christmas to have an AIDS free generation by 2015. I want to be a part of the generation that makes it happen. I chose to do an event for Agnes in honor of two of my family members who lost their lives to this disease before there were ARV treatments. Now that it is available, it is my hope that it continues to be made accessible to all those who suffer. There are many ways to observe this day. Bono is using his platform while Agnes will remain in the “trenches” fighting the good fight as only Agnes can. I chose to support Agnes and the MPWN by selling their crafts. Others may visit the final resting place of those lost. Some may visit those who are suffering with the disease right now. Some may sign a petition for ONE telling legislators it is not ok to cut funding that is saving millions of lives. Still others may simply buy a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s , one of the many supporters of (RED). Those few dollars will buy a vaccine that will save a life. Every contribution matters. We don’t have to be celebrities to make a difference and end this disease that has been taking lives for over 30 years.
Peace and love to all of you this holiday season and in 2012.