Thirty-one years: that’s how long we’ve been dealing with AIDS in America.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine what life would’ve been like without this disease — and I mean that literally. As of 2010, the average American was 37.2 years old. Assuming that most children become aware of AIDS in grade school (or later), the majority of Americans living today have never known a world without AIDS.
And yet, we don’t talk about AIDS much anymore — at least, not as much as we used to. That’s probably because fewer people are dying of it.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is now treatable with a host of medications. Many of those come in a convenient one-pill form that patients take once a day, just as they would a multivitamin.
As a result, life expectancies for those who receive HIV treatment is on the rise. In fact, recent studies in the U.K. have found that HIV-positive individuals who reach age 60 may actually live longer than their HIV-negative peers, perhaps because they visit their doctors more often for monitoring.
But AIDS is not over. Not by a long shot:
- Over 33 million people around the globe are infected with HIV. And while infection rates are generally falling in the U.S., in other parts of the world, they’re on the rise.
- Today, there are a range of drugs to treat HIV, and they’re hugely effective, but they are also very expensive. Even in a wealthy nation like the U.S., only 33% of HIV-positive Americans have prescriptions for such drugs.
- Though people are living longer thanks to powerful new medications, there’s some evidence to suggest that having HIV can lead to other health problems unrelated to the virus, like heart attacks. As the HIV-positive population continues to grow — due to new infections and longer lifespans — we’ll need to confront these challenges.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about an “AIDS-free generation”. Achieving such a goal may be possible, if we step up education, prevention, testing, and treatment efforts, and if some of the most promising new HIV treatments bear fruit. But we still have a long way to go. On this World AIDS Day, here are a few things you can do to help:
- Visit Durex’s 1share1condom website. Share one of the company’s messages about World AIDS Day on Facebook or Twitter, and Durex will donate a condom to HIV-prevention efforts.
- Sign this petition urging the U.S. Congress to protect important health programs, including those dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS.
- Purchase How AIDS Ends, a 99-cent e-book anthology published by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The writing is spectacular (the foreword is by Bill Clinton), and proceeds benefit the Foundation’s efforts to provide free services like HIV/AIDS education and treatment.
Hopefully, the worst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is behind us. Hopefully, we won’t have to spend another decade turning sadness into rage. Hopefully, advances in medicine will bring about an end to HIV/AIDS — therapeutically or literally — in the near future.
But hope without action won’t get us very far.