DURBAN, South Africa — Charlize Theron has identified the real reason AIDS is still an epidemic, despite all the tools we have to fight the disease.
At the opening ceremonies of the 2016 International AIDS Conference, the actress, who founded the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project in 2007, asked the audience why so many people are still infected with HIV each year — and why so many still die of AIDS-related causes.
"The truth is, we have every tool we need to prevent the spread of HIV: condoms, PrEP, PEP, ART [antiretroviral therapy], awareness, education," Theron said. "And yet 2.1 million people — 150,000 of them children — were infected with HIV last year. In South Africa alone, 180,000 people died of AIDS last year." Theron's figures align with those from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS.
So why haven't we beaten the epidemic? It could be because humanity doesn't want to, Theron suggested.
"The real reason we haven't beaten this epidemic boils down to one simple fact: We value some lives more than others," Theron said. "We value men more than women. Straight love more than gay love. White skin more than black skin. The rich more than the poor. And adults more than adolescents."
"I know this because AIDS does not discriminate on its own," Theron continued. "It has no biological preference for black bodies, for women's bodies, for gay bodies, for youth or the poor. It doesn't single out the vulnerable, the oppressed or the abused.
"We ignore them," she said. "We let them suffer, and then we let them die."
Theron is right: HIV disproportionately affects marginalized groups. According to UNAIDS, it's 19 times more prevalent in men who have sex with men, up to 49 times more prevalent in transgender women, 12 times more prevalent in sex workers and 28 times higher in users of injection drugs than the rest of the adult population.
It's also a major cause of death among young people. In 2012, HIV was the second leading cause of death among adolescents around the world. Today, it's still the leading cause of death among Africans aged 10 to 19.
Jordyn Taylor reported from South Africa on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project.