Today is World AIDS Day. It has been observed every December 1st for twenty years, although the pandemic is in its twenty-seventh year. Students at Emory University will display 800 panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher will be the keynote speaker at a prayer breakfast in Atlanta, and South Africa, a country widely criticized for its AIDS policies, will mark the day with a moment of silence. But few of the press releases we reviewed actually discussed how to end AIDS.

World AIDS Day is politicians and clergy orating, while organizations and governments soul search.

But AIDS is neither; AIDS is sex and drugs, mainly the gay kind and the injectable version. It clusters around three high-risk groups: gay men, prostitutes and IV drug users.

AIDS is stigma. Because the disease first appeared in gay men, homophobia stigmatized HIV in the first place.

AIDS is political. From the onset of the disease, homophobia parallelized prevention, research and government funding efforts. Former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms opposed funding for AIDS on the sole basis that it would help gay men.

Gay men were first to organize against the disease that was decimating their community. Gay activists demanded answers about HIV, invented safe sex, and eventually forced governments around the world to fund research and prevention programs. The knowledge of how to end AIDS was at hand – protect yourself sexually, avoid IV drug use (or use clean needles).

In some countries, stigma continues to interfere with that eradication program. In many African countries homophobia continues to drive gay men underground, where they cannot be helped by aid workers. In India, the world's largest democracy, being gay remains illegal.

The HIV drug cocktail has freed us from the death sentence of AIDS in the West, while simultaneously defanging the perceived threat by young gay men. But while the drug cocktail has reduced the amount of visible scar tissue, it has not altered the dynamics of the disease.

During the early Bush years, the administration sought to refashion AIDS as a humanitarian crisis. With a surgeon's scalpel it cut out the sex, drugs, gays, sex workers and addicts. A new policy that emphasized abstinence was devised from massaged UNAIDS figures showing an increase in AIDS among young women. Billions have been spent around the globe on ineffectual policies advocating monogamy while ignoring the three high-risk groups.

AIDS is preventable. It remains largely a gay disease in Western countries, which gay men need to claim as their own, if only to help ourselves. Quilts will keep the memory of our loved ones nearby, but remembering them should come with a commitment to helping ourselves. A commitment to remaining HIV-negative is a step towards ending AIDS.

And ending AIDS is what World AIDS Day should be about.