In our current times of economic recession, terrorism and global disparities, it seems only right to take time out to reflect and assess our personal responsibility as well as our accountability to our fellow humans. Coincidentally, this also is in keeping with the theme of today, World AIDS Day.

As the World Health Organization celebrates the 20th anniversary of its HIV/AIDS campaign, it’s logical to start with one important question: What is the state of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS?

There definitely has been progress. Since 2000, the worldwide numbers on HIV have stabilized. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that also means there were still an estimated 33 million people living with HIV globally in 2007. There were 2 million HIV-related deaths in 2007.

Domestically, the Center for Disease Control reported that more than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States. The other bad news: Recent estimates of infection rates look like they were too optimistic. While it was previously estimated that 40,000 people are infected annually, a report released this year estimated that the annual infection rate was 40 percent higher, at 56,300 infections annually.

Here at the University, HIV infection rates are relatively small. In 2007, HIV tests administered by University Health Service came back positive only .001 percent of the time. However, this data doesn’t account for the many services at the University that offer HIV testing. And recent national data asserts that roughly 1 in 5 people with HIV may be transmitting the infection to others because they don’t know their status.

So, to close out the semester, let’s discuss what you can do in your own sex life and what you can do politically to make a difference.

This fall, we learned that using condoms isn’t high on University students’ to-do lists. To recap, a 2006 National College Health Assessment survey along with UHS showed that condom rates are at 50-51 percent for vaginal sex and as low as 5 percent for oral sex.

We may be in need of some fresh ideas when it comes to protection. Here’s one good place to turn: a 1997 article “It’s Like You Use Pots and Pans to Cook. It’s the Tool.” This was featured in the Journal of Science, Technology and Human Values and offered interviews with a particular group of San Francisco sex workers who paid particular attention to controlling their bodily fluids in a post-HIV climate. To be clear, none of these women were drug-addicted or worked on the street, and all of them were over 18.

The following are some helpful tips about how to make safer sex a more viable option. First, all condoms are not made equal. In this assessment, Kimono condoms were regarded as one of the standout latex condoms. Kimonos are known for being thin and discreet so that your partner won’t even notice they are on. And while most latex condoms are an off-white color that seems to camouflage the most on white men, Kimonos have such a clear quality to them that they appear invisible on men of all races.

Next, it’s important to take another look at the female condom. “Women-initiated devices” as they are called have the potential to remedy a lack of compliance. Some informants reported that these condoms can be noisy and minimize sensation. However, one sex worker reported that “the fifteenth time was a lot easier than the first time.”

Lastly, another offering this article made was about the utility of non-powdered latex gloves. These can be used during digital penetration, otherwise known as “fingering,” and when cut sideways they can be used as a makeshift dental dam. They can be bought in bulk at warehouse retail outlets, are gender-neutral and are available in all sizes.

On the political level, you can write your Congress members advocating for the reform of U.S. foreign aid to ensure that the global HIV/AIDS struggle is a priority in president-elect Barack Obama’s first 100 days. Looking more locally, however, it’s important to note that the United States has spent billions of dollars in global aid and the CDC spends only $750 million dollars annually on prevention of infections nationally. We must advocate for more funding domestically and a multi-tactical approach that includes comprehensive sexual education.

Tomorrow between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., there will be a kickoff rally on the Diag in commemoration of World AIDS Day. Stop by, and lend a hand for health justice.

Rose Afriyie is the Daily’s sex and relationships columnist. She can be reached at sariyie@umich.edu.

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