Let There Be Peace on Earth
This time of year always evokes memories of family and good times spent in celebration.
This time of year always evokes memories of family and good times spent in celebration. I think of Christmas parties with my big Italian family gathered around the dinner table. We ate, laughed, played games, sang songs, and ate some more. My grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins were all there, and I remember our faces hurt from laughing so hard. A big reason we had so much fun was my cousin, Stephen. He could light up a room. He was vibrant, funny, and charming. A kind and generous soul, no one was a stranger to him. I actually saw him give his coat to a man who had commented that he liked it. “After all,” Stephen said, “that man looked like he needed the coat more than me.”
Stephen left us way too soon. He died of complications from human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in 1993. Even though it’s been 22 years, I still miss him terribly. Stephen was not only my cousin, he was one of my best friends. December is AIDS Awareness Month, and I’ve often thought how bittersweet it is that a month intended to celebrate the holidays is also one that reminds us of the many who suffer from this devastating syndrome.
Progress has been made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. In fact, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) for the United States was recently updated to the year 2020.1 The NHAS identifies priorities and action steps with measurable outcomes in order to address the epidemic in the US. Its vision states, “The US will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic circumstance will have unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”1 Significant achievements are highlighted in this updated NHAS, including
- Introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis that includes taking a daily drug to reduce the risk of infection
- New testing technologies developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that enable early diagnosis and interventions
- Collaborative partnerships across governmental agencies to share data and enhance initiatives
These achievements are reasons to feel optimistic, but there is still much to do. The incidence of HIV has declined in certain populations (women, heterosexuals, and injecting drug users), but it remains an epidemic among gay and bisexual men. I remember the lyrics of one of Stephen’s favorite songs during this time of year. While it’s not a traditional Christmas carol, it identifies the spirit of the season and a hope for the future. “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” May all who suffer find such peace.
- National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Available at: aids.gov/federal-resources/national-hiv-aids-strategy/nhas-factsheet.pdf. Accessed November 12, 2015.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. December 2015;13(12):10.