- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We are seemingly darn close to developing pharmaceuticals that reduced the risk of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, but a bit of discouraging news made headlines this week, too.

The astonishingly encouraging news on the HIV/AIDS front: A new once-daily pill helps prevent transmission among heterosexuals.

According to data from two studies conducted in Botswana, Kenya and Uganda, antiretroviral medicine reduced by up to 73 percent the likelihood of uninfected heterosexuals getting the virus. The medicine worked both ways - from women to men and men to women.

In addition to reconfirming the essential role that antiretroviral drugs play in arresting the spread of HIV/AIDS, the new data announced Tuesday “could help us to reach the tipping point in the HIV epidemic,” says Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS.

We’re getting there - but reaching the tipping point means that parents, houses of worship and government officials must raise their voices against young and promiscuous sex.

Sadly, though, while we should drop to our knees and give praise for the remarkable medical breakthroughs in Africa, we can hardly afford to applaud ourselves as preparations begin in the nation’s capital to host the 2012 International AIDS Conference.

The very cycle of life is threatened each day when an estimated 1,000 babies are infected with HIV and when the virus is the leading cause of maternal mortality in developing nations.

This means either that healthy, uninfected women and girls stand at the very nexus of protecting future generations from contracting HIV or that infected ones doom them to lives of utter uncertainty.

How’s that for gender inequality?

And if you look southward, you’ll see that prospects are darkening.

According to a USA Today analysis of 43 states, there has been “a vast geographic shift in the HIV epidemic in the USA in the three decades since the first cases of a deadly new disease were reported in gay men by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1981.”

The report by the newspaper reflects several shades of gray by highlighting racial and socioeconomic factors. But we know better.

HIV/AIDS, like other viruses and diseases that can be sexually transmitted, doesn’t care whether people are black or white, famous or infamous, rich or poor, male or female. Yet a geographical distinction is worthy of American’ considerable attention.

High HIV rates are sweeping across the South in poor and rural counties from Virginia to the Mississippi Delta and Texas, seemingly debunking the myth that HIV/AIDS is a big-city affliction.

The CDC, the World Health Organization and the United Nations are the world’s governmental leaders in the battle against HIV/AIDS. And even back in 1981, many specialists suspected two primary ways of infection - the exchange of bodily fluids via homosexual acts and filthy intravenous needles.

We now know so much more, including the very good news regarding medical breakthroughs among heterosexuals.

Let’s make certain, though, that we don’t take several steps backward by saying “See, it’s not a gay man’s disease,” or slamming the closet door on Judeo-Christian teachings.

While millions of people with HIV are living healthier lives, and millions more with AIDS are living longer, America can’t reach the “tipping point” without urging abstinence and blaspheming casual sex.

We’re close, but not nearly close enough.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected] times.com.

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