When I was in the second grade, I had a friend who had polio. Her name was Gail and she wore braces on both of her legs to help her walk. She also was the only person in our class that wore glasses. She was taller than me and had really pretty long brown hair.
Hopscotch was the reigning playground game and I was the hopscotch queen. I had great balance and could jump all of those squares that were occupied with someone else’s lucky hopscotch rock or chain. Gail would stand on the edge of the hopscotch and watch us play.
One day, while we were eating lunch, Gail asked if she could play. I said sure, even though I was worried about how she was going to hop on one foot, much less bend down and get her rock or skip a square. But she was excited. We showed up at the hopscotch and I announced that Gail would be playing with us. Everyone looked surprised and starting saying all kinds of unkind things. The ugly talk wasn’t anything new. Gail was constantly having mean things said to her, but it had never happened at the hopscotch before. No one wanted to play if Gail was playing. So it was just Gail and me.
Polio is a viral disease that affects the nerves and causes partial or full paralysis. Polio is highly contagious and was a worldwide epidemic between the 1840s and the 1950s. As a result of a massive, global vaccination campaign over the past 20 years, polio exists only in a few countries in Africa and Asia.
Today is World AIDS Day. After 30 years, HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and treatment has been effective in many areas, but we are nowhere near eradicating HIV/AIDS. Since there still is no vaccine, education, prevention, and early treatment are our best means of eradicating HIV/AIDS for now.
We cannot let up on our efforts in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. There are still more new cases of HIV than those being treated. Just in the United States, one in every five persons does not even know they have HIV. Four out of five persons with the virus do not have their disease under control.
An AIDS-free generation is possible. First, virtually no children are born with the virus. Second, as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today thanks to a wide range of prevention tools. Third, if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.
We have the knowledge and interventions NOW for an AIDS-free generation. Getting to zero is possible if we – the researchers and scientists, the public health docs and nurses and other personnel, the community health workers, the funders and donors, the government officials, the business leaders, philanthropies, and faith communities – all join together in this quite remarkable way to combat this disease keep focused on the future … like they did for polio.