Thirty years of AIDS: Smithsonian remembers the start of a pandemic

AIDSThirty years ago this summer, the first official reports were released about a new virus that destroyed the human immune system. The virus was the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

Since that time HIV/AIDS has become a global pandemic, claiming millions of lives and seriously damaging several developing economies.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is marking this grim anniversary with a special two-part exhibition at the Washington, DC, museum. HIV and AIDS Thirty Years Ago looks at the initial public and government response to HIV/AIDS from 1981-1987, and how the virus was first isolated. Archiving the History of an Epidemic: HIV and AIDS, 1985-2009 takes the story forward to look at society’s growing awareness of the problem and oral histories of those affected. There’s also an online exhibition.

For more information on how HIV/AIDS and how to protect yourself, go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HIV/AIDS information page or the government’s AIDS page for basic information about HIV/AIDS.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa by climbing Kilimanjaro

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is an amazing experience that deserves to be on the “life list” for any adventure traveler. Standing 19,340 feet in height, Kili is the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing volcano in the world. Located just a few degrees off the equator, its snow capped summit is the stuff of legends, even inspiring Ernest Hemingway to write about it. Now, you can combine your desire for a great adventure with the opportunity to have a positive impact on the place you visit.

In 2011, the American Foundation for Children with AIDS is sponsoring four charity climbs up Kilimanjaro, delivering an unprecedented opportunity for travelers to experience that adventure while helping young people in Africa as well. The AFCA is a non-profit organization that raises awareness and fund for children affected by AIDS on that continent, and in recent years they’ve made an annual climb up the mountain as one of their primary fundraisers. Participants on those climbs are expected to raise a minimum of $8000 to take part in the expedition. That money is used to pay for transportation and lodging while on the trip, food while climbing the mountain, including water and snacks and hiring guides. Additionally a $5000 donation is made to the AFCA’s to help fund their work in sub-Saharan Africa.

The dates for next year’s climb are as follows;

February 28 – March 10, 2011
August 6- 17, 2011
September 11-20, 2011
Women’s Only Climb: October 1 – 12, 2011

Each of the expeditions can accept up to 14 travelers and with several options available, there is some flexibility for when participants can take part in the adventure. With dates as far out as October of next year, there is still plenty of time to get signed up and start the fund raising process.

For more information on the organization and these great charitable climbs, click here.

Controversy over Condé Nast Traveler’s World Savers Awards

The popular magazine Condé Nast Traveler hosts the annual World Savers Awards to recognize the efforts of hotels, airlines, tour and cruise companies that give something back through their environmental or social programs. But one recipient of the 2010 award is attracting controversy over its actions.

Wilderness Safaris won this year’s award in the Health Initiatives category for its HIV/AIDS program, which includes the construction of clinics in South Africa, Zambia, and Malawi. Now Survival International, which supports the rights of indigenous peoples, says Wilderness Safaris falls short of its image as positive force in the community.

It points to its new luxury lodge, the Kalahari Plains Camp, set on the traditional lands of the Bushmen in Botswana. The lodge boasts a bar and swimming pool while the Bushmen have to walk for miles to get water. The local people used to have a well, but the government capped it when it kicked the Bushmen off the land in 2002. Survival International and the Bushmen went to court and won the right for the Bushmen to return to their lands, but the government still won’t allow them to reopen the well.

Wilderness Safaris says providing water isn’t their responsibility, but Survival International points out that they constructed a well near one of their resorts in Zimbabwe in order to attract more wildlife.

How much responsibility does a resort have to the local community? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

[Photo courtesy Ian Beatty]

U.S. lifts ban on travelers with HIV or AIDS

For the past 22 years, if you had HIV or AIDS and weren’t American, you couldn’t enter the U.S.

That changed today as President Obama lifted the ban. Since the Obama administration is planning to host the 2012 World Aids Conference, the change in policy was necessary.

The biannual conference naturally includes many people living with HIV and AIDS, and barring their entry would have been bad PR for an administration that wants to be seen as a global leader in the fight against the disease

There are only ten countries that now ban people with HIV/AIDS from entering. They are: Brunei, China. Equatorial Guinea, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

According to the website hivtravel.org, some of these countries allow people to enter under “special circumstances”. Some other countries not on the list put restrictions on people living with HIV/AIDS but not full bans.%Gallery-13474%

World AIDS Day: The Names Project Quilt

Today is World AIDS Day, a day that reminds me of a trip I took to Washington, D.C. more than ten years ago. There are some sights that can only be adequately described in photos or in words–a person has to see them for the full effect. These are the sights that take your breath away. The Grand Canyon, the statue of David and the Names Project Quilt are the three that have moved me the most.

In 1996, when I stepped out of the metro at the Mall and saw the sea of fabric rectangles sewn together into panels that stretched in every direction–each individual panel the size of a grave, I was stunned. Where does one start to take in such loss? I started by looking for my dad’s first cousin who had died of AIDS. My father’s cousin did have a panel that friends of his had made for him. Among the sea were several friends of my brother’s as well.

Even though the Names Quilt has grown in size beyond the boundaries of the Mall–it’s currently made up of 40,000 panels– it’s possible to see sections of it throughout the year. Here’s a link to the list of current locations where parts of the quilt are on display. Most states have at least one location.

You can also visit the The NAMES Project Foundation headquarters in Atlanta where it’s possible to view specific sections of the quilt if you contact the foundation ahead of time.

Until you’re able to see part of the quilt in person, here’s a tribute I came across. The song “The Morning Train” sung by Kickin Grass Band reminds me of southeastern Kentucky where another cousin–my mother’s first cousin, is buried in the family cemetery. He also died of AIDS.