There is no more important international crisis in the world today than the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Forty million people are infected with the virus, including five million new cases in the past year. Three million people have died in the last twelve months.
We've seen a lot of ignorance and hatred expressed over HIV/AIDS in the past twenty years, with the "gay plague" epithet still being bandied about by a bigoted few. We've seen friends, acquaintances or friends who know friends who have died because of the virus. We've seen many celebrities, mostly in show business, lose their lives to the disease. And we've seen the instance of new cases coming under control in many "Western" countries. But this is all just a small part of a massive tragedy that is wrecking societies and undermining humanity on a global scale.
Monday 1 December 2003 is World AIDS Day, and it's a day when we should all reflect on the magnitude of this calamity and ask whether enough is being done. (The answer to which is a resounding No.)
Say what you will about the International Cricket Council, but the ICC is to be commended for entering a strategic alliance with UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, to publicise the fight against HIV/AIDS in cricket-playing countries.
Curiously, the ICC is the only international sporting body in the world engaged in a major alliance with UNAIDS this year, but the impact of HIV/AIDS in the cricketing world is most severe. Some twelve million people in nations that have full membership of the ICC are living with the HIV virus.
In South Africa alone, the number is a staggering five million in a country of 45 million population. In India, there are about 4.5 million. The increase in HIV prevalence is reaching alarming levels in the Caribbean, where eleven countries form the cricketing alliance that we know as the West Indies.
Education, the availability of the appropriate drugs, and the elimination of poverty are all important factors in fighting the war against this massive epidemic. As a cricketing community, it may seem that we can't do much, but ensuring awareness and solidarity is a significant step.
Players at three international matches this week - Zimbabwe v West Indies on Sunday, Pakistan v New Zealand on Monday and Sri Lanka v England on Tuesday - will be wearing red ribbons on the field. (It would be nice to see Australia and India join in at The Gabba on Thursday.) And the ICC is conducting an internet auction of cricket bats signed at the last World Cup, with proceeds going towards an AIDS project in India.
The main players in the war against HIV/AIDS are the governments of the world, the major non-governmental organisations and the multinational corporations with the capacity to help alleviate the suffering of the millions worldwide. Humanity must come before politics, parochial ideologies and profits. We need to ask questions to ensure that action is being taken.