Monday, December 01, 2008
It's hard to believe how long AIDS has been among us. I can still remember the first rumors of this new disease back in 1981, although it was later determined that it had really started much earlier.
In the next few years, there was the gradual increase in knowledge, the discovery of the virus in 1984, followed the next year by the availability of a blood test to diagnose the disease.
Although the initial belief was that the disease was only affecting gay men, it gradually became clear that anyone could be affected if they were exposed to the virus through blood. Intravenous drug users of both sexes were getting it; children were being born with it. Hemophiliacs and those receiving blood transfusions before the screening for the virus had started were also getting it. Men and women were getting it from each other. A few people even got it from their dentist's tools.
As the disease became more thoroughly understood, drugs were developed; first AZT, then throughout the 1990's a myriad of new drugs called reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitors that gradually transformed AIDS - at least in the developed world - from a death sentence to a chronic disease that can be "managed." You can go here for a brief history of AIDS, which includes the timeline for the development of these drugs.
But an actual cure for AIDS or a vaccine are still out of reach, despite the efforts of researchers over the past quarter century and more. And in many developing countries, especially in Africa, the plague of AIDS continues to ravage their populations. The expensive miracle drugs that are keeping AIDS patients alive in the United States are not available to most AIDS patients in these parts of the world.
And even in the United States, the drugs don't work for everyone; and for others, the side effects are too severe and they can't take them.
One unfortunate effect of the success of the newer drugs is that they have made AIDS less visible and less threatening to the younger generations that are coming of age now. Many younger people are becoming complacent about AIDS and participating in risky behavior.
So there is much more to be done to continue to combat this scourge. Education has to continue to prevent new cases; drugs must be made available to those who aren't able to receive them now. And research must continue to ensure that one day a true cure is discovered, and a vaccine invented to protect the uninfected.
World AIDS Day reminds us once a year that we must continue to fight this disease which is ravaging so much of the world's population. But it's a battle that must be fought all year long. Please click on the title of this post to see what you can do to help.