By Drew Gibson
For the foreseeable future our national discourse will be dominated by incessant chatter about the upcoming presidential election in November. There will be debates and stump speeches with candidates promising things they can never deliver. We will be treated to speculations upon speculations about salacious tidbits of the nominee’s lives that have no bearing on their ability to govern and the cable media will generally try to blunt our collective sanity by spending days of programming on this election cycle’s incarnation of Joe The Plumber. Your only real chance at making it through in one piece is to hole up in a soundproof bunker with a copy of the League of Women’s Voters election guide and only come out on November 6th to cast your ballot. Regardless of whether or not you can make it through November without taking a pickaxe to your TV and/or computer, the rest of the world will go about its business and while we gaze inward at our political navel.
If you watched nothing but cable news, you would be forgiven for thinking that America was the only country on the planet…or at least the only one that mattered. The only time they cover international news is when it has direct impact on the US (suicide bombers in Afghanistan or trade talks in China) or when it’s sensationalistic enough to attract swarms of viewers (earthquake/tsunamis or bloody coup d’etats). Outside of the discussion surrounding The Arab Spring in Egypt or the genocide in the Sudan, when was the last time you heard Africa mentioned on the bottom of the news ticker? When was the last time you were kept up to date on goings on in India or the whole of Southeast Asia for that matter? Unless you watch BBC News or check the World section of the Washington Post on a regular basis, you probably can’t remember.
It is my personal hope (I speak do not speak for everyone) that Preparing The Future can be a movement that broadens what it means to be a citizen beyond country and towards humanity. Getting to zero new infections and zero deaths here in the states doesn’t mean much if HIV continues to ravage the rest of the globe. While the HIV epidemic takes a tremendous toll here in America, it is but a drop in the global bucket. A recent UN report was released stating that 25% of all children in South Africa are HIV+. That is 5 million kids infected with the virus by virtue of the circumstances of their birth. There are 4 times as many positive children in South Africa as there are HIV+ people in all of the US. Never having been there, it is impossible for me to fathom how such a thing could come to pass and how one would cope with loss and infection on that large a scale. We have almost 3,000 people on ADAP waiting lists and that’s with only a little over 28% of HIV+ Americans in effective treatment. We’re the richest nation on the face of the earth. If we can’t even stem the tide of HIV here, then what chance have they in the slums outside Johannesburg?
To make matters worse, it seems we can’t even prevent illnesses for which we already have effective treatment. A recent study of malaria drugs in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa showed that up to 1/3 of the drugs being used were fake. Chalk it up to avarice, greed or incompetence; it doesn’t really matter. An untold number of the 650,000 to 1.2 million people who die of every year could have been spared had they been given the medications they thought they were getting. Now, as with strains of HIV that have become medication-resistant through non-adherence, there are various types of drug-resistant malaria floating about in Southeast Asia and Africa.
There are no easy answers to any of these problems. If there were they would have been solved a long time ago. The HIV+ children of South Africa are the product of centuries of Apartheid and social stratification. They were born from the most soul-stirring poverty imaginable: millions living without clean drinking water, without working toilets and growing up in shacks. The fake malaria drugs come part and parcel with the new Asia of China and India. In the state-sponsored capitalism of China and the extreme wealth disparities of India, it is only natural that unregulated business would churn out false product for material gain. As if to reinforce this point, news broke today detailing that thousands of counterfeit electronic parts, most of them Chinese, had recently been used in US military equipment.
So, where’s the light at the end of the tunnel? To be honest, I don’t know if there is one. But, I do know that we will be better for striving to find it. Albert Camus said as much in The Plague, a novel that, while not about HIV or malaria, illuminates the suffering they bring. “No,” Camus said, “we should go forward, groping our way through the darkness, stumbling perhaps at times, and try to do what good lay in our power. As for the rest, we must hold fast, trusting in the divine goodness, even as to the deaths of little children, and not seeking personal respite.” It sounds like he was writing this for and about those 5 million HIV+ children in South Africa, but he wasn’t. It’s just that all human suffering, all pestilence and disease feels the same no matter how it looks or who it infects. There will always be a new disease and new calamity, but that is what makes us human. Only through the struggle do we find what life may mean, in failure just as much as triumph. No one ever grew from setting out to defeat something that was guaranteed to lose.