If you grew up in the 1980s, AIDS was something not discussed. It was considered a disease only homosexual men had to worry about, and not the rest of the population. This is partly because the disease showed up most prominently in this population when it was first becoming noticeable. Of course, it was never just a problem for men – gay or otherwise.
If you grew up in the 1990s, AIDS was one of the biggest concerns of the day. You knew what AIDS and HIV were, you had classes in how to prevent the disease and were taught that it was deadly 100% of the time. There was no cure. In fact, successful treatment methods only became mainstream for those affected 12 years ago in 1996.
Today, AIDS is one of the many causes we work on to cure the world and our own countries of epidemics and disease. AIDS is in a period of transition in many countries as the disease can be all but halted with heavy-duty medications and there are rumors of a cure being found every day. This is not the story for the entire world however, and even at home we still have a very serious cause for concern. You can only treat HIV and AIDS once you know you have it – and way too many people are oblivious that they have and are continuing to spread the disease.
HIV and AIDS
If you haven’t yet sat through a health class on the topic, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus which is the precursor to the AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It is believed by AVERT, the international AIDS charity, that more than one million people are currently living with AIDS in the United States and that half a million have died from the disease.
AIDS weakens the immune system until your body has no defenses against any disease – big or small. Eventually, your body can’t fight off another illness and you die. The right drugs will help bolster your immune system so that your body can continue to fight off the common colds and viruses as well as bigger diseases we have every year.
AIDS: The Pandemic
AIDS is obviously a huge concern in the United States, but it’s also a huge concern for every county in the world. The reach of AIDS and the number of people it kills makes it a pandemic – a worldwide epidemic. In 2007, AIDS killed 2.4–3.3 million people worldwide. More than 570,000 were children. A third of all these deaths occur in just a handful of African countries. If this pattern continues, which is likely given the current situation, 90 million people in sub-Sahara Africa will be contaminated leaving 14 million orphans in the next decade.
AIDS and the US
AIDS is a huge concern world-wide, and those with the power to help – namely us – should be doing everything we can to help. But at the same time we’re donating to charities that help these more affected countries, we need to be sure that the problem isn’t getting worse in the United States, too. We have the advantages of the most progressive medicines and research in the world, but there are still over 450,000 people thought to be living with AIDS in the US today. Over 3,000 of those are under the age of 13.
AIDS can spread four ways – through sexual encounters with an exchange of any fluids such as semen, pre-ejaculate fluids, vaginal fluids and blood (not saliva, however), by sharing needles with an infected person, through a mother infected with AIDS giving the disease to her child in the womb or during delivery, and through breastfeeding a child if the mother has AIDS. Only one in four children of AIDS mothers are naturally infected, but those born clear are often infected immediately after birth by breastfeeding. This is where the children currently living with AIDS became infected. Today, AIDS testing and certain procedures to protect the baby are part of pregnancy care, so the number of babies born with AIDS is reduced to almost none in the United States. This is not true of other nations.
Why do we still need to worry in the United States and other Western nations? The disease is not under control, and there is still no cure, although there are ways to slow the disease considerably if caught in time. Worst of all, for every three people currently living with AIDS or HIV, there is one person out there who has no idea they are sick and contaminating others.
Helping the Cause
Your first step in dealing with AIDS to be sure all of your friends and family are tested to be sure they are AIDS free. Then, start donating what you can to respected AIDS charity programs to fund the efforts of those working to help the victims of the disease. As you grow older, you can do more by volunteering yourself to go to Africa or just help in a program closer to home. You can also help someday by working on a cure and new treatments. It’s entirely possible that you or someone just like you will discover the cure millions are waiting on.