[click "Play" to listen to Ron Gilmer's take on the state of AIDS]
At the time of his death in December 2010, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke had had a 20-year relationship with the Telluride community. One fact that might be lost in all the ink spilled over his extensive legacy is this: Holbrooke was once president of the Global Business Coalition against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As an AIDS activist, Ambassador Holbrooke summed up the Telluride AIDS Benefit this way:
“What Telluride is doing is a model for small communities around the world.”
In the program for the upcoming Telluride AIDS Benefit fashion show, there’s a tribute to Ambassador Holbrooke and the evening is dedicated to the man. Which is a good and proper thing, but….
Is TAB still necessary?
Look around. AIDS, once the disease du jour, rarely makes national headlines. (There was, however, one front page story back in November. We’ll get to that in a minute.) We did not see red ribbons attached to gowns and tuxes at the Oscars. Once trendy AIDS Rides have been run off the road. And World AIDS Day passes with a yawn.
Is the age of AIDS finally over?
Not on your life.
According to UNAIDS, as of 2009 it is estimated that there are about 33 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, with 2.6 million new infections per year and around 1.8 million annual deaths due to AIDS. Since the beginning of the epidemic in America (around 1984), well over a half million people have died from the virus and its nasty side effects, the equivalent of the entire population of Las Vegas. And today, there are more than 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in America alone – with about 20 percent are unaware of their infection. Those individuals in particular, the ones who do not know, pose a high risk of onward transmission.
It was one of those people who infected a young, white, heterosexual woman on the Western Slope, who spoke on camera to Telluride local Jenny Franks, Sparky Productions, director of the movie she made in the 1990s about AIDS in our neck of the woods. The film’s title, “Soft Smoke,” is a reference to the negtive consequences of secondary smoke from cigarettes. You get the point. Then there was the case of Anne Marie Cox, another heterosexual white female and former Telluride local, who announced her infection from what she thought was “safe sex” before the assembled – and stunned – crowd at the 1997 TAB fashion show.
In 2009 alone, about 54,000 American were infected with HIV. Yet America lacked a comprehensive plan on AIDS until 2010, when President Obama launched the National HIV/AIDS Strategy in July.
The Strategy is structured around three core goals: reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities.
Clearly, the Telluride AIDS Benefit, with its aim of “Fight, Fund, Educate,” has long operated ahead of the curve.
Now to the headline I referred to a few paragraphs ago. Around Thanksgiving 2010, on Wednesday, November 24 to be exact, a headline in The New York Times read: “Study Finds Pill Greatly Lowers The Risk of AIDS.” If this anti-AIDS pill were taken every day, it might be a new weapon. But even if this pill, Truvada, a combination of two anti-retroviral drugs works over time, it is not the Holy Grail. It is not a cure.
To find out more about why the work of the Telluride AIDS Benefit remains important, click the “play” button and listen to my interview with TAB’s Grand Vizar, Ron Gilmer.