As an educator and an advocate in the HIV/AIDS community I am often asked “Is AIDS still with us?” This question usually arises after the latest television story or news report about the newest treatments for HIV positive people.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the answer to that question is yes; the disease is still with us with over one million reported cases of people living with HIV in the United States alone. Worldwide the numbers become more staggering with UNAIDS estimating over 31 million people who have contracted HIV.
For those of us who are involved in the HIV/AIDS community, it can be shocking to realize that there are those who might question whether HIV and AIDS are still an issue. But for many people who aren’t regularly exposed to people who are affected by the disease, their lack of awareness lies in the assumption that with the many new treatments and medications that have been developed, AIDS has been cured or at the very least turned into a manageable disease. There have been many news stories reporting the latest findings of ongoing studies that do not give the full picture. This news coverage often only gives the most sensational facts without including the sobering realities and still missing information on the disease.
A case in point is the use of current medications such as antiretroviral treatment protocols, which have helped many HIV positive people to live longer and healthier lives. Yet this is an expensive, lifelong regimen of daily medications that are often only covered under the very best forms of medical insurance.
For a large majority of HIV positive people who are either underinsured or without insurance at all, access to these groundbreaking medications can become a challenge. The recent huge cuts in government funding on both the Federal and State levels have compounded these difficulties. For the very poorest in the US there are waiting lists for access to medication and medical services.
Even those who have access to top line medical care have to contend with their own body’s reactions to the treatments and medications. HIV medications can be like a toxic brew, causing multiple levels of side effects that can be challenging for the person taking them. Sometimes dealing with the side effects of the medications becomes a full-time medical issue in and of itself. And these extremely toxic medications do not work for everyone.
With fewer people expressing concern about the continuing spread of HIV in America, this has lead to a decline in AIDS awareness prevention/education, with the result that HIV infection rates are once again on the rise. In the Kaiser Family Foundations 2009 Survey of Americans on HIV and Aids only 6 percent of those surveyed viewed HIV/AIDS as an urgent national health issue.
Messages of safe sex, abstinence, and regular condom usage are falling by the wayside as new infections hover around an annual rate of 55,000 people with people of color being the largest percentage of new infections.
So how does this information affect each of us in our day-to-day lives? It is important to remember that these are not just words, numbers and statistics. HIV/AIDS is a very real part of many people’s lives. People that you have met in your day who live and work in you community. There is no part of our population that is not somehow influenced by the AIDS epidemic. Take the time to inform yourself and learn more about the fact and truths of this disease through reliable resources such as the www.CDC.gov/hiv and www.TheBody.com.