World AIDS Day

It didn’t receive an avalanche of publicity at the time, but on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day was marked and the lack of a reaction may well show off the biggest problem.

AIDS? Are people still concerned about that? Isn’t there a cure already? Isn’t that a problem only in Africa?

Now, it’s likely that those questions didn’t go through everyone’s mind when they heard mention of World AIDS Day, but for a few too many, they did. Just recently at Greenwich High School, two students, both of whom are involved with the youth council of the locally based Red Ribbon Foundation, said they surveyed their fellow teens and found a disturbing number of them were either convinced there was a vaccine in use or were not fully aware of the grim realities of AIDS.

Yes, it’s true, being diagnosed as HIV-positive no longer means that you have but a few years to live. The disease can be managed through an extensive, and expensive, regimen of medications. But it is still a fatal disease. There is no cure. And more and more people are forgetting or are simply not aware how serious a problem it is. Yes, we hear so much about the way AIDS has ravaged Africa, but we must not forget that this is not a problem that exists solely in other countries.

Last week, Greenwich resident Gary Dell’Abate came to GHS to talk to teenagers about the reality of AIDS, something he knows all too well, having lost a brother to the disease in its early days when there was too little education and too much hysteria. He told about the quack doctors promising cures through blood transfusions and vitamin C intake. He talked about the fear that compelled people to ostracize not only anyone suffering from the disease but anyone who might be suffering from it, something that hit the gay community hard.

A father of Greenwich students and a longtime coach and town volunteer, Mr. Dell’Abate is usually making people laugh as the producer of the infamous Howard Stern Show, but there was nothing funny about his message as he talked about having to see his brother die day by day as he slowly deteriorated physically and mentally.

But that was in the 1980s. It’s all good today, isn’t it?

Well, it’s better, but so much needs to be done still, and forgetting about the issue won’t make people any safer.

When you look at someone like Magic Johnson, a world class athlete, media personality and successful business owner, on TV talking about the Lakers’ coaching situation, buying free agents for the Dodgers or just serving as an ESPN analyst, you almost have to be reminded that his revelation that he, a straight man, had tested HIV-positive changed the way people viewed the disease. And though this was more than 20 years ago and Magic still seems as healthy as ever, it doesn’t change the fact that he is going to die from it. There is no cure. It can be managed but not cured.

When you get AIDS you will die. That has to be hammered home, because it is a disease that can so easily be avoided through proper care of yourself and by making smart choices. That’s a message Mr. Dell’Abate hammered home to GHS students, and it’s something that the Red Ribbon Foundation, a vital local organization, is working hard to accomplish. Education is critical. We have teenagers today who have never seen the grimmest days of the AIDS crisis. They grew up with it being a part of their lives, and to them it can seem as abstract a concept as polio or the measles.

World AIDS Day was a good time to take a moment to remember all that still needs to be done to educate and, yes, cure this deadly disease. That’s why we need to support groups like the Red Ribbon Foundation and its efforts, especially as they’re targeted toward our youth.

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