Pedro’s story still relevant today
- Bill Clinton is founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the 42nd President of the United States. The opinions expressed are his own -
Fifteen years ago, when Pedro Zamora appeared on MTV’s The Real World, he changed the face of HIV/AIDS in America.
For the first time, viewers saw an openly gay, HIV-positive young person on national television. As we followed his story each week, Pedro humanized the growing epidemic, reducing our ignorance and fears and increasing our determination to act. By living bravely and allowing MTV to show his story, Pedro set an extraordinary example of what a tremendous impact a single person can make in our world.
Pedro’s story and his message remain powerful and relevant. Today, more than 1 million Americans are living with HIV, and 20 percent of them don’t know they are infected. Infection rates are increasing among certain groups, including women of color. The HIV infection rate in Washington, D.C. – at 3 percent – is comparable to some African countries where AIDS is the number one cause of death.
It’s critical for our nation to intensify the fight against HIV/AIDS here at home, starting with testing. Lack of information, misconceptions, and social stigma keep too many people from getting tested. Others mistakenly believe they have been tested as part of routine health care visits. Rapid result tests, including basic oral swabs, make it easy for anyone, anywhere in the country to be tested for HIV. Non-invasive testing is also available for other, more prevalent STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea.
Today marks the start of National STD Awareness Month. Several organizations on the frontlines of the HIV/AIDS and broader STD efforts are beginning a concentrated push to get as many people tested as possible this April. This is an opportunity especially for younger people who have never lived in a world without the threat of HIV/AIDS to confront these challenges head on. I urge all Americans, particularly those under age 25 who are sexually active, to get tested for STDs and make responsible decisions about their sexual health. Our actions now will shape the future of the AIDS epidemic and our country’s health.
Abroad, we’re fighting a different challenge: worldwide, there are 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Millions now have access to treatment, thanks to The Global Fund, the U.S. PEPFAR program, the Gates Foundation, UNITAID, and many others, including my foundation’s HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI). More than 1.4 million people are now accessing more affordable, lifesaving antiretroviral treatment under CHAI’s pricing agreements. But severe challenges remain in expanding access to everyone who needs it, in stopping mother-to-child transmission, and in preventing new infections.
This requires thinking big – building health systems that bring services to rural communities and increasing the number of frontline health care workers who can educate people on prevention, test those who need it, and supplying medicines for treatment. Without these basic, high-impact health services, too many people are dying and more are being infected than we can treat.
In the early 1980s, very little was known about the HIV/AIDS virus or its origin. We’ve made great progress on treatment and prevention, and in raising the awareness and developing political will necessary to address the crisis. But we still have a long way to go. We must continue toact on Pedro’s message of prevention, understanding, and compassion, both nationally and globally.
That requires an open dialogue on sexual health issues, a dramatic increase in prevention practices, a willingness to be tested, and an all-out effort to bring prevention and treatment to the far corners of our Earth. We must remember what Pedro taught us: one person can change the world – and whether or not we are living with HIV or know someone who is, we all have a responsibility as global citizens to do whatever we can. Life is short enough as it is. No one should die from a disease that is both preventable and treatable.
Bill Clinton will introduce the feature film “Pedro” when it premieres on April 1.