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30 Years of HIV/AIDS
This year marks the third wave or 30th year of AIDS being a known public health threat. During this time in the USA and beyond, we’ve seen tens of thousands become HIV infected and progress to an AIDS diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attempted to provide effective interventions at the community level and even abroad. But the disease progression persists. HIV infection has reinvented itself almost in a Madonna-esque way. In the early 1980’s it was a “gay white male disease” and then the innocent victims like Kimberly Bergalis and Ryan White going public, proving that HIV was not just a gay-disease but could be transmitted via infected mother to child, infected needle-sharing, as well as non-sexual contact like tattooing and blood transfusions.
Today after 30 years of AIDS prevention efforts, global leaders may now need to shift their focus to spending more on drugs used to
treat the disease as new data show this is also the best way to prevent the virus from spreading. The U.N. General Assembly will take up the issue next week as it assesses progress in fighting the disease — first reported on June 5, 1981 — that has infected more than 60 million people and claimed nearly 30 million lives. Guiding the meeting is groundbreaking new data that shows early treatment of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, can cut its transmission to a sexual partner by 96 percent.
“There had been for a long time this artificial dichotomy or artificial tension between treatment versus prevention. Now it is very clear that treatment is prevention and treatment is an important part of a multifaceted combination strategy,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said recently.
Fauci, who has made AIDS research his life’s work, has a bigrole to play in the discussion of the NIH-funded study made public on May 12. “A month ago, we didn’t have that data. People were still arguing. ‘Well, we are not so sure if you treat people you are really going to prevent infection,'” Fauci said. “The policy makers need to sit down and say, ‘Now that we know this, is this going to be enough incentive to change around our policy?'”
And as policymakers and researchers do their work, each of us must do our parts and manage our behavior in a way that does not increase our risk for HIV infection or spread it unknowingly to others. People who are not aware of their status have long been encouraged to get tested and know their HIV status. It’s also recommended that HIV positive people get treated and adhere to treatment regimens that can prolong their life.
HIV is no longer a “death sentence” in the USA as it is in many parts of the world. That doesn’t mean that any of us should be careless with our health status either. Just as we manage to brush our teeth, exercise, eat (relatively) healthy, taking care to protect you from any sexually transmitted infection is critical. HIV/AIDS can be prevented.