Friday, December 01, 2006

HIV/AIDS: Failure Is NOT An Option

Imagine for a moment that you go to the movies to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster release. The film has gotten great reviews and the theatre is jam packed with patrons. The movie is terrific, but when the lights come back on you notice something strange.

Everyone around you is dead.

Each day in South Africa an estimated 950 people die from AIDS and AIDS related diseases. It's the equivalent of the entire movie theatre dying around you.

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the twenty years that HIV/AIDS has more or less been in the public consciousness, rather than decrease, the worldwide infection and death rate has actually increased.

  • In 2004, 36.9 million people were living with HIV. Today that number is 39.5 million.
  • In 2005, 2.7 million people died from AIDS and AIDS related illnesses. In 2006 that number reached 2.9 million.

In the media, we often hear about the impact of AIDS on the African continent and there's no doubt that the situation there is a health crisis disaster. But these reports may also have the unintended effect of giving those of us in other parts of the world a false sense of security. HIV/AIDS isn't in our face the way it is there. Most of us haven’t watched someone we know waste away from the disease. We might not even ever have met someone infected with the HIV virus. But before those of us living in North America or Europe feel too safe, I would like to point out that the statistics sited above, are on the rise in EVERY region of the world!

AIDS is not a gay disease and it is not an African disease. It is not an affliction of just the IV drug user. It is a human disease and it has reached epidemic proportions!

The good news is that antiretroviral HIV treatments are increasingly successful in decreasing the presence of the virus in a person's body. According to the World Health Organization, "when the drugs are given in combination, they stop the HIV virus from replicating within the body, and delay the deterioration of the immune system and onset of AIDS." The challenge however, is that the drugs are expensive (CNN estimated the cost this morning at $20,000/year) and that in third world countries, only a marginal percentage of the infected population has access to them.

We must do more.

Today, I urge you to take a positive step towards turning the tide. Here are simple things that you can do:

  • Write to your Senator and Congressional Representative. Ask them to increase the amount of governmental funding for HIV research.
  • Today, wear a red ribbon as a show of awareness and support.
  • Make a donation to an organization that supports people with HIV and or AIDS.
  • Attend an educational event and learn more about the issue.
  • Practise safe sex.

The past is pock marked with lost opportunities and failures to act. We cannot allow or afford that to continue.


Blogger Kerry said...

Kudos John for commenting on the world AIDS Awareness campaign and the situation in general.

Surmounting this disease is a task on a par with putting men on the moon: without the political will and resources it won't happen.

Regrettably the factors that must come together to create a cure do not exist nor will they:

Responsible sexual behaviors in ALL populations, be they African, North American, Asian or whatever. Sexual Activity- specifically Heterosexual sex worldwide- drives the infection rate and until a vaccine can be developed (or a real cure)- this is ground zero of the war on AIDS.

A cure.
The retrovirals we have today are only temporizing agents, you will live, but you will carry the infection and as we've seen in some cases infect others.

Only in the rare cases of AZT in peripartum women do we see a "preventative" cure in that infected women pass on the disease to their children less often if they are on the med as part of their prepartum care.

Along with HIV there is the less known, but equally deadly Hep C and Hep B viruses.

A few notes:

1) The death rate remains constant at 7.3%, but the absolute numbers do rise. STEADILY.

2) I guarantee that everyone in America knows someone with HIV. If you know 200 people, one is infected.

3) AIDS is a slow moving disease currently- but viruses mutate. Buyer Beware.

To close:

From the standpoint of my humanity I stand frightened and appalled, as a physician and a scientist I know this is nature at work.

Our species has no guarantee of continuance, no "Get out of jail free" card. If our behaviors, from sexual to our governments turning a blind eye to our own "Not my problem/it's a gay curse" attitude, allow these viruses to flouish then we will be, as Darwin so perfectly put it, "Selected Against".

Nature will move on happily without us. The Earth won't miss us one bit more than we miss last weeks cold.

Best Regards


8:01 PM  

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