Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day

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.


Hill said...

Such a terrible disease.


OT, I am linking you and adding you to the blogs I follow thingie.


Christopher said...

Great post.

I can't believe how much time has passed since the virus known as HIV was recognized and the disease called AIDS was diagnosed.

I spent all of the 1990's working for the largest HIV/AIDS non-profit in Los Angeles. There were many rewarding times and many heartbreaking experiences. I finally burned out and left.

Maybe one day, I will return.

Randal Graves said...

Dontcha know, abstinence cures all, heh heh.


Fran said...

It is so vital that we stay focused on this awful disease, which grows and grows exponentially.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very good post Maui. I agree that as the drugs have gotten better, we have begun to see HIV/AIDS as a manageable disease, which it is for some, but not for many, as you pointed out. The pressure needs to remain strong to erradicate this horrid disease.

Tom Harper said...

The U.S. isn't the only country that tried to pretend that AIDS only affects a few "fringe" groups. Before it hit North America, it started spreading around Lake Victoria, where several African countries share a border. For whatever reason, smugglers were the main group to start coming down with AIDS. So everybody just dismissed it as "that disease that smugglers get."

pissed off patricia said...

I have lost three friends to that disease from hell. One of them was well known as she was the victim of her dentist's tools.

Brian said...

Well said.

Comrade Kevin said...

Perhaps someday there will be a cure, sooner than later.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mauigirl said...

Hill, thanks so much for the link and being a follower!

Christopher, I didn't realize that you worked with an HIV/AIDS nonprofit in LA. I can imagine it was, as you said, both difficult and rewarding; I'm sure you did a lot of good in your time there.

Randal, yep, that was what the Bush administration wanted people to do. Not that THEY would want to be abstinent for their whole lives. I'm glad the new administration will probably be changing a lot of the requirements for AIDS assistance abroad (e.g., not requiring abstinence-only education, etc.).

Fran & Sherry, I know - and a lot of the time I think people tend to forget about it now that it's been around for more than 25 years now. Just because much of the devastation is not as obvious here as it is in the developing world, many people probably don't realize it is taking such a toll and continuing to grow; it's not like in the 80's before the drug cocktails, when every day we heard of someone who died of the disease. Not to minimize those who continue to die here in the US of it. It's just not as top of mind as it was back then for many.

Tom, that reminds me of when they thought Haitians got it and thought it was just gays and Haitians who were susceptible. As if one nationality would be susceptible and others not!

POP, so sorry you've lost three friends to this terrible scourge. I remember that whole thing about those who were infected by the dentist. At first no one wanted to think it was possible.

Thanks, Brian. This has always been a big concern of mine. I hope someday this disease is eradicated.

Kevin, yes - I have faith there will be.

Anonymous, in case you come back here and find your post deleted - as it will be - let me explain why. Your post was not a direct response to mine. If it had been, I would have engaged you in discussion. Your comment was a "canned" response - a FAQ question-and-answer format. That makes you a troll. If you'd like to come back and comment on my blog on this topic I will leave your post up and respond to it. In the meantime, I am deleting it as I have no interest in your bigoted spam.

Alicia Morgan said...

I have lost many dearly loved friends to AIDS. The first gay person I knew was the son of my first piano teacher as a child, and he became my best male friend and (for a short while, right after high school) my first fiancé. He died of AIDS at 32. Another friend I lost to AIDS was a girlfriend of mine, a talented photographer and the most spiritually evolved person I ever knew - her husband was a bass player friend of ours and they chose to get married knowing they only had a short time together.

I hate this disease and I can't wait until the day we beat it.

Mauigirl said...

Alicia, it's such a sin that AIDS takes such young people in the prime of their lives. I hope someday a vaccine will work and it will become as rare as polio is (at least, as rare as polio is here; I know it still isn't wiped out everywhere).