Normally, one celebrates a birthday or an anniversary, but celebrating HIV? First: the virus is surely older than 30 but we can say that 30 years ago HIV turned into the limelight of public interest. Who does not remember the scare, this unknown, but clear gay disease – so much so, that the responsible health authorities ignored early warning signs that there might be more to it and allowed for a long time that untested blood was used for transfusions. In respective it showed so clearly that finding a minority to blame is the easiest and one keeps on blaming until disaster struck again and one has to admit that the problem is broader than said. Whether Ronald Reagan or Nelson Mandela – both did not a lot to face the pandemic and let’s be honest, an earlier political approach worldwide or in South Africa would have saved many lives. This is not meant to blame those in power, but it shows how ignorance or tradition or religious feelings can become source of a killing spree.The difference between the two is that Ronald Reagan never apologised for his shortcomings in this matter while Nelson Mandela acknowledged that he could have done more. Then the President’s Fund (PEPFAR) comes to mind, which ignored condoms (as the RC church still tries to do) and prostitution. Once again how many lives could have been saved? And now, 30 years into the pandemic, once again all those important world leaders face another decision: to keep the money flow going for the next years to turn the tight knowing that this is possible or otherwise ignoring the facts and or handing out empty promises with the result that the pandemic will take the next turn rising again.
But 30 years of HIV is also a day of thanksgiving: to all the sung and unsung heroes who fought the pandemic, all the researchers and doctors who dedicated their lives to get tests and medication out to those infected and affected. And praise to all the gay organisations worldwide which were indeed the first promoting safer sex and bringing the pandemic into the light of the public. 30 years of HIV is therefore also a salute to all those around the world who are looking, caring for the 34 million HIV positive people. And as a priest I am proud to say that specially the churches are doing their utmost in the fields of care and treatment for people living with or affected by the virus.
30 years – and still a lot to do: to find a cure, to abolish stigma, to allow that human rights and dignity are guaranteed for people living with the virus. And of course also to reflect on sexuality and death again, to ask all these practical and philosophical questions about our life, our longings, our fears and our hopes. And this is something I strongly believe is also true: the treat of HIV or the infection was for many people also a chance to hold in, to reflect and to become a more conscious person – knowing how valued life is and how much everybody has to take care to live it to the fullest.
So for me personally HIV has many facets – it has certainly changed my life in many ways: the way I work as a priest, the way I live as a person, the way I see life, the gratefulness I feel about every new day and new challenge. It has brought me to know great people and great friends and to work in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It also has brought me in conflicts with my church and certainly there is an ongoing debate about prevention and certain aspects of moral theology – but at the same time it has forced me to think sharp and to listen to arguments carefully.
And it has certainly done one thing: it has taken away a lot of my fears – having seen people dying with full-blown AIDS, having done so much counseling, having faced my own anxiety while watching dead and dying, despair and hopelessness, having allowed many people to judge me in one or the other way, I know more than ever who I am and what I want to do with my life: to live it to the fullest the way I was created and called by God. And to assist others to do the same with their lives.