Awareness means nothing without action

Stephen Buszka

“South Park” and “Family Guy” have decided it is okay to joke about it, “Team America: World Police” has an entire song devoted to it, Tom Hanks once had it in “Philadelphia” and a few Bohemians who couldn’t afford their “Rent” had to live with it.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome has found its way into pop culture and the general consciousness, due in great part to awareness programs. Our society now acknowledges AIDS. It is no longer a “gay disease,” people no longer fear the spread of it through air or touch and (although this might be wishful thinking) people with AIDS are no longer universally ostracized. But the question remains, is this enough?

Last Friday was World AIDS Day, and aside from a few people wearing red, a red ribbon on the Google homepage and some special TV station logos, I wonder how much of a difference it really made.

Villanova’s division of the Face AIDS campaign held events all week long in an attempt to raise awareness, but did it have any effect? I am afraid to say that it didn’t. Awareness is great, but there comes a time for action.

This is true even at Villanova. At Sunday Mass this past weekend, two days after World AIDS Day, the members of the congregation bowed their heads in prayer, asking God to help those fighting AIDS. Not more than two minutes later, the church held a collection for a cause other than AIDS relief. It doesn’t matter what the other cause was; the fact is that action did not follow awareness.

For some reason, actively participating in the AIDS relief cause is stigmatized and avoided the way those with AIDS were in the early ’80s when the disease first broke out.

AIDS was first discovered back in 1981. By the mid-1980s, it was causing a world-wide panic as it reached epidemic proportions. People were determined to raise awareness and money to fight the disease. In 1984, scientists announced that a vaccine for the infection would be discovered within four years.

Things did not work out as planned. Over 20 years later, the world is still waiting for that vaccine. AIDS continues to grow as an epidemic, and the fight against AIDS has lost its luster. The fear of the disease has lessened, and it seems that the world has hardened itself to AIDS, not physically, but in spirit. For the most part, the urgency to battle the epidemic has dwindled significantly, but why?

It’s not that people are intentionally ignoring the problem, and it’s not even that people aren’t willing to work toward a good cause. It seems to be the case that the urgency of the fight against AIDS has been transferred to other causes.

I am not knocking those who give time and effort to other worthwhile causes; I respect that. The problem is that no one seems to want to tackle the AIDS crisis. Maybe it’s too hard, maybe it’s near impossible or maybe it’s not instantly-gratifying. It is a completely different type of selflessness.

A volunteer can help defeat hunger by feeding the poor, and a charitable person sees the benefits of his or her work and feels good. Volunteers can put a smile on a deprived child’s face by giving him or her a toy for Christmas, and they are warmed by the child’s inevitable smile.

But what can a volunteer do to curb AIDS? Donate money? It seems so cold, so heartless, so disconnected from humanity to “throw” money at a problem. Money doesn’t satiate hunger; green paper can’t give an unfortunate child warm memories of loving, but it can do something.

Not everyone can meet up with someone who has contracted AIDS and offer personal, intimate aid, and it is not always possible to directly have a positive impact on a person’s life.

As unfulfilling as it may seem, sometimes the only things to do are raise awareness, pray that everything works out and donate money to a cause.

Concerning the AIDS crisis, it seems that people have grown complacent. Awareness about the disease is higher than ever, and undoubtedly, everyone wishes for a quick solution to the problem. But the buck stops there.

No one seems to be willing to take the next step. It seems as if, as a whole, people have either grown tired of the fight against it or feel like it is no longer a threat to their well-being. Whatever the case may be, there is a disconnect between awareness and action. People cannot seem to take the next step and take action.

It is time people wise up and stop twiddling their thumbs and do something about the epidemic. There is no cure or vaccine for AIDS, but there can be. Currently, the only way to prevent the onset of AIDS is through expensive medication, but not everyone is “Magic” Johnson.

Right now, there is no medical way to prevent AIDS, no vaccine. There is a better solution out there waiting to be discovered; it just takes some effort.

AIDS exists, and being “aware” of it is not enough. It kills over 8,000 people a day, according to the National Institute of Health’s Web site.

The time for awareness has come and passed, and the time for action is now upon us. Scientists are searching for a cure, a vaccine, anything, but they need support: not only moral and spiritual support, but also activist and financial support.

It may not be satisfying or fulfilling, but money and activism can and will make a difference. Give it a shot. And do it soon because the clock is ticking, and for some, it is already over 20 years too late.