David Ernesto Munar
David Ernesto Munar: Regular medical care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS can dramatically improve their health and extend their longevity.
Thu. December 1, 2011 by Terrence Chappell
Regular medical care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS can dramatically improve their health and extend their longevity.
AIDS Foundation of Chicago President and CEO David Ernesto Munar reflects on World AIDS Day
TC: (Terrence Chappell) What does World AIDS Day mean to you?
DEM: (David Ernesto Munar) World AIDS Day is a solemn occasion to reflect on the millions of lives lost and forever changed by this 30-year pandemic. It's a day to recommit to the fight against HIV/AIDS, and to demand stronger leadership from our government and civic leaders. And the occasion is a great time to encourage our family, friends, and co-workers to get educated, get tested, and get involved in efforts to stop HIV/AIDS.
TC: Where are we today in comparison to the start of World AIDS Day twenty-three years ago?
DEM: We've made progress but much work lies ahead. In the US, there are nearly 1.2 million people living with HIV. A quarter of a million Americans are unaware they are living with HIV, and half a million who have been diagnosed with HIV do not receive regular medical care or treatment that could save their lives and slow HIV transmission. In 2011, we have amassed incredible medical tools and know-how to stop HIV, but tragically getting proven strategies to those who need them is still a barrier.
TC: You recently wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune where you mentioned an AIDS-free generation. Do you believe that is a reality? If so, how?
DEM: The science is clear: treatment is prevention. Regular medical care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS can dramatically improve their health and extend their longevity. In addition, new evidence shows that HIV-positive people who stick to their regular treatments can reduce the risk of HIV transmission to others by as much as 96% - an effectiveness rate greater than consistent and correct condom use. Thanks to watershed medical advances, enormous progress against HIV/AIDS is scientifically possible but the question remains whether it will be politically possible given enormous political and economic challenges.
Without full implementation of the federal healthcare reform law – and greater efforts to reduce persistent AIDS stigma – an HIV-free generation will never be without our grasp. We need greater access to healthcare and increased HIV testing and prevention services to move closer to a world without AIDS.
TC: What is AIDS/HIV funding like today?
DEM: Thankfully, our local, state, and federal governments have sustained investments in AIDS-related services but these dollar are not keeping up with the magnitude of need for greater HIV testing, outreach and counseling services, medical care, treatments, housing, research and other vital services. Without a greater public and private investments in the fight, HIV/AIDS will only continue to escalate as a problem and result in greater healthcare costs down the line. The weak economy has also meant that individuals, corporations and foundations are less able to support AIDS-related services. What is most tragic is that a larger investment now to slow the rate of new infections would yield dividends in future by averting healthcare costs.
TC: Where are we in the battle? And what can the average person do in the fight and with prevention?
DEM: Everyone can play a part and it starts with a simple yet powerful question: do you know your HIV status? If you're a gay or bisexual man who is sexually active – ask your doctor for HIV testing every six months. Everyone needs to know the facts about HIV and make sure that adolescents know the basics about this disease and how to protect themselves. If you are living with HIV, there is a great amount of hope for a long and healthy future if you take steps to take care of yourself and your partners. Ask for help. Find an expert HIV doctor and seek services from an array of local AIDS organizations that can link you to others who are living with HIV and can answer your questions.
Of course, the fight against AIDS also needs tens of thousands of concerned citizens - whether directly affected or not. If you can, lend a hand to make sure local efforts against AIDS have the volunteers, donations, and financial support needed to make a difference. AIDS Foundation of Chicago and dozens of other local advocacy organizations also need individual to join our local advocacy efforts to make sure government officials do all they can to end AIDS. Sign up at www.aidschicago.org for news and learn about other ways to get involved.
And last but not least, eat some chocolate at World of Chocolate, of course - the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's annual World AIDS Day commemoration event to raise funding for the fight. The event is at 5:00 p.m. at the Hilton Chicago on Thursday, December 1. Learn more at www.aidschicago.org.
Interviewed by Terrence Chappell. Terrence Chappell serves as editor-at-large for ChicagoPride.com where he writes Chappell Confidential, a social and nightlife column. He grew up and still resides in Chicago's Auburn Gresham neighborhood and remains active in the LGBT community. Chappell founded Professional Young Gays (P.Y.G.), a social and business networking initiative designed to connect young, business-minded gay men and women. Follow @tc_confidential