We’re at a Critical Moment in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

WorldAIDSdaySometimes, opportunities present themselves to rise to an occasion. It doesn’t matter whether it’s convenient or difficult. And our response can determine the legacy of a generation.

This is true of our current moment. With World AIDS Day on December 1st, we are at a critical crossroads in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and our response has the power to shape and save lives.

Right now, the opportunity and promise of an AIDS-free generation loom large. We have come a long way in the fight against HIV/AIDS: Between 2000 and 2013, new HIV infections fell by roughly 40 percent.

But the epidemic continues to affect millions of people around the world and in the United States, with marginalized communities disproportionately impacted and millions newly infected each year. Globally, in many places hardest hit by the epidemic, adolescent girls, and young women face poverty, gender inequality, exclusion, discrimination, lack of education and sexual violence, which put them at increased risk of acquiring HIV. And harmful laws that target and criminalize people living with HIV pose a serious threat to public health because they discourage those at risk from seeking lifesaving preventive care and early treatment. The United States must continue to provide robust support for the domestic and global health programs that aim to address these challenges, including HIV/AIDS and reproductive health care.

The situation can feel daunting, but an AIDS-free generation is possible. The United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals aim to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, and Planned Parenthood will play a key role in helping to ensure governments implement the agenda so that this vision becomes a reality.

In the United States, Planned Parenthood provides nonjudgmental, comprehensive, high-quality reproductive health care services that are critical in fighting the epidemic. In Oregon and Southwest Washington, Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette health centers provide nearly 4,000 rapid HIV tests and provide information and education to more than 10,000 people every year. Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette also helps connect patients with trusted, quality resources, and follows up with them to make sure they are cared for with the attention they need and deserve.

Understanding that young people remain at the center of the HIV epidemic regarding rates of infection, vulnerability, impact and potential for change, Planned Parenthood Generation Action groups work on more than 200 college campuses, helping educate and mobilize students on issues affecting sexual health and reproductive rights. We’ve conducted outreach and enrollment work to ensure that the millions of still uninsured Americans in our country, including those who are living with HIV, have access to affordable health care. Planned Parenthood also partners with 53 organizations across Africa and Latin America to reach more than 1 million people annually with sexual and reproductive health information and services, including HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

Our efforts to advance sexual and reproductive health care have been unnecessarily politicized and hindered by opponents of women’s health. Congress must pass a spending bill by December 11th to avoid a government shutdown. Rather than supporting needed efforts to combat the epidemic in our community and around the world, we anticipate that anti women’s health members will continue to push for funding cuts and policy riders that undermine our ability to do so, including defunding Planned Parenthood. Following Congress’ example, a growing number of states have lodged their attacks on Planned Parenthood’s capacity to serve low-income patients who rely on Medicaid and other critical public health programs.

Unfortunately, defunding attacks have not been limited to Congress. In recent months, we have seen an orchestrated attack by right-wing governors and legislators to kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid and other critical public health programs, including HIV prevention programs — indispensable sources of health care for low-income and uninsured people. These attacks actually deny patients access to affordable health care from providers they trust and pose a serious threat to public health.

Let’s talk about what “defunding Planned Parenthood” really means: taking health care away from the 2.7 million women, men and young people Planned Parenthood serves each year. More than 90 percent of what we do is basic, preventive health care — lifesaving cancer screenings, well­ woman exams, birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections — including HIV.

As the funding negotiations continue, it is critical that we focus on what’s imperative: ensuring that our patients continue to receive the health care they need. We send our heartfelt thanks to those who have stood in support of Planned Parenthood and advocated for funding and policies that expand access to healthcare services and information in the United States and globally.

Every individual should be able to decide when and whether to have children and have access to the care they need to control their body and their future. This is true whether they are HIV-positive or not. I encourage you to #StandWithPP and support efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. Now is the time to move forward, not backward, on an epidemic that has affected so many millions around the world. Let’s protect our progress, and double down on our efforts to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Jimmy Radosta is the Media Relations Director for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, the largest nonprofit provider of sexual and reproductive healthcare and youth education programs in Oregon and Southwest Washington. For more information about STD testing, or to find a health center near you, visit PPCW.org.