Thursday, January 7, 2010

the best policy

New Year's resolutions are a lot like those glam, pointy-toed, precariously high-heeled shoes stashed in the back of your closet. They're gloriously chic, classic, they match every outfit, and on the 31st of December, you pull them out of the pile wondering why you ever retired these beauties in the first place. Six days later, youre hobbling across your room on raw toes, sore arches, and blistered heels, to cast those decade-defining shoes back into the void.

It’s hard to admit that they’ll stay lost for the next 18 months. It’s harder when you substitute stroppy fashion with the exercise bootcamp, healthy menu, and dry behaviour that you promised yourself in the spirit of a new decade. It’s hard to be honest.

But with age, I find that admitting the truth can save you a lot of hassles. It can be hurtful, it can be embarrassing, and god knows it can be uncomfortable, but a little pain now usually saves a mess of trouble and emotion later on.

But I’m just a globetrotting post-grad with high opinions and a devastatingly low account balance - fessing-up to the little things in my life doesn’t typically involve public scrutiny or international attention. But it’s in these arenas that a certain frankness matters most. Enter my latest read, The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani. She’s a journalist turned epidemiologist (fancy word for disease hunter) and she’s spent the last twenty years chasing HIV, predicting its outbreaks and shaping prevention strategies for countries across Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. AIDS is a scary word, one that Westerners struggle to internalize, especially when bombarded with devastating figures like more than 2 in 5 adults in Swaziland are infected with the disease. In Canada and America the numbers are nowhere near as high, and there is a growing call for understanding and acceptance of a disease that was once tagged as the plague of “social misfits.” But how do we stop it?

My travels have taken me to some of these “at risk” places – places where AIDS is the main cause of death for people ages 24-49. I never encountered it personally, but every month someone, whether it was the company driver or the project stonemason, would take the day off to attend the funeral of a cousin, or an in-law, who had succumbed to the disease. It seems like an impossible situation, one that has been injected with billions of dollars without enough major success. And what’s most shameful, is that when the numbers add up, the most effective strategies, proven to reverse the spread of HIV, are ones that congressmen and heads of state refuse to fund because of social stigmas.

It’s probably too simple to say that investing in promoting safe sex and needle exchange programs would solve the pandemic – but the spread of HIV has all but been stopped and sometimes reversed in places like Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand, where the focus is on the people most at risk (sex workers and junkies). Providing condoms and clean needles to those most likely to contract and subsequently transmit the disease has been proven to drastically decrease the number of new HIV infections among the general population. But in the eyes of the public, who wants to dole out the cash to make a prostitute’s job a little safer? Even the UN is guilty of promoting smokescreen images of the problem, saying HIV spreads because of “poverty” and “gender inequality” (polite terms that veil the blunt reality that drugs, prostitution, and other dirty business propel the disease in most cases). And the United States (the biggest single contributor to the international fight against AIDS) refuses to support programs that don’t line up with their political agendas (because the programs like the Purity Ring work – except for the 72% of pledges who did have sex before marriage). And if you can’t convince the average hormone-driven American teenager to stay pure, then what are you chances of persuading someone who’s livelihood depends on sex to abstain? It’s frustrating to say the least.

So if I have any hope for the future, it’s that 2010 will be a decade where people have the courage to be honest. It may be painful, scary, and awkward, but if I can admit that my promise to run five miles a day isn’t as realistic or effective as a commitment to exercise a few times a week and eat right, then maybe Washington, Parliament, and the other heavy hitters will have the guts to make the “immoral” or “deplorable” decisions that just may change the world.


  1. You are a very talented writer, honestly.

  2. i completely agree. beautiful, my friend.