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AIDS, Our Growing Problem

Christen M. Gray

In the last century, some of the greatest health care breakthroughs in history have been made. Scientists have discovered antibiotics, thus relieving the world of a variety of diseases. With the general manufacture and use of vaccines in treating measles, smallpox, and polio, we are relieved of many more maladies. The world even united to eradicate smallpox entirely. Yet, in spite of these grand accomplishments, we are currently facing a new epidemic, and we are deeply, as a world community, entrenched in it.

Our new enemy is AIDS. AIDS, of course, is the the disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus is spread through blood and sexual contact. Currently, one in nine people carry HIV in South Africa. There are 800,000 orphans whose parents died of AIDS in South Africa. Many of these deserted children are dying of the disease themselves.

I am not going to continue to detail the statistics and woes. They only get worse. I am simply going to ask, why is this happening? A disturbing conversation not too long ago brought me to my conclusion.

A friend, who would probably prefer to remain anonymous to MIT’s liberal campus, said to me that “AIDS is a disease of morality.” This friend went further to defend this statement by saying that those who get AIDS deserve it; this is just an instance of God smiting the wicked.

Needless to say, I was disturbed at the ignorance and utter indifference in this statement. I believe that there are a great number of people who believe this logic and prefer to stay ignorant of the true situation so that they may rest easier at night knowing they are good people and, therefore, this is not their problem. The plain truth is, of course, that bad things happen to good people, and sometimes the worst things happen to the most innocent of all.

The scientific and world communities offered no help when AIDS first reared its ugly head in the African population. Nor did anyone seem to be particularly concerned when it infected the homosexual population in America. In 1985, did a gay man deserve to die a miserable, early death because he chose a different lifestyle? May he be the most loving and gentle man in the world, many Bible-banging Christian fundamentalists would cry out, “Yes! He was wicked and deserved the curse God cast upon him!” The more temperate people who make up the majority of our nation just wouldn’t care. Of course, there was always the poor, unfortunate hemophiliac who got the disease. But some righteous must fall in doing God’s work, isn’t that right? Like the Inquisition, right?

Today, in Africa, the innocence of the most afflicted is more blatant. Men, forced by circumstances created by Europeans, work far away from their families. While away, they associate themselves with prostitutes and city-girlfriends. Many become infected with AIDS. This is an easier case in which to condemn the diseased; however, to quote a book these same condemners tend to put a lot of stock in, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” America certainly as a whole isn’t any more moral a nation. What if our last president had gotten AIDS?

It gets worse. When these men return home, they infect their wives. The mothers infect the children while conceiving them. The parents die. Sickly children are left behind, and it is they who suffer the most. The absolute innocents. The baby didn’t get the disease because their parents were any more moral or immoral than a typical American family. They got it because nobody who knew enough to stop it cared.

You see, I could let my friend’s comment roll off my shoulders and tell myself that it’s just that one person, they just don’t know. I could believe that this was the minority if I didn’t see evidence of the same train of thought in every newspaper I read.

There are drugs, cheaply made drugs, available that, had the mothers had them during their pregnancies, could have prevented many of the children from ever getting AIDS. Other antiretroviral drugs are available to treat the disease in the suffering; at least, available to those who will pay the prices demanded by the drug companies. However, to the poverty-stricken families of Africa this is an impossible dream.

In a market driven by vanity drugs and such things as Viagra, these companies would have relatively little to lose offering low-cost, generic drugs to these nations. All the payrolls would still be filled, the bottom line would still show an immense profit, but maybe the owner was thinking of buying a new yacht ...?

I think at some level the CEOs must be telling themselves that they are just doing their job, turning a profit. But do they realize the huge blind spot that has formed over their eyes? Do they avoid watching news because the faces of dying little children would haunt them in their sleep?

I am actually inclined to agree with my friend about one thing. This truly is a disease of morality, but the sin does not belong to the afflicted. The guilt and responsibility belongs to those who would stand by and say, “It’s not my problem.” The sinners are the Bible-banging preachers who would preach mercy and condemn the innocent. It’s the people who claim that a free marketplace for health care is more important than a child’s life. The worst of it is, AIDS is our problem now, and growing. Because we would not stop it.