Perspectives on AIDS change through decades

WTAMU's Student Medical Services offers free condoms. Photo by Courtney Inman.

WTAMU's Student Medical Services offers free condoms. Photo by Courtney Inman.

There is much to celebrate on World AIDS Day coming up on Dec. 1.  AIDS research has made milestones in recent years. Since the 1980s, when AIDS began getting more attention in the U.S., a lot of changes have occurred that have challenged scientists to research ways to cure this deadly disease. One of the changes that AIDS has seen over the years is the attribution to both homosexual and heterosexual people. When AIDS first came around, anyone infected with this deadly disease was thought to be gay. But now, through counseling and awareness, people now know that it’s not only gay people who can contract AIDS, but also bisexual and heterosexual people. People no longer see AIDS as a “gay disease.” Although homosexuals or heterosexuals who have anal sex are at an increased risk of contracting AIDS, the disease can also be contracted through vaginal sex. In the United States, gay and bisexual men account for almost half of the 1 million plus people living with AIDS. In the world, more than 7,000 cases of AIDS are reported each day and only 5-10 percent of these cases involve homosexual men.

AIDS means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. People who contract this viral disease usually don’t develop full blown AIDS until years later. The first sign of AIDS is the presence of HIV [Human Immuno-deficiency Virus] in the body. People with HIV can live for many years as long as they live healthy by eating right and using the anti-retroviral drugs to suppress the growth of HIV. When it becomes full blown AIDS, is when people don’t survive. Viral diseases are one of the deadliest and hardest to cure. This explains why researchers still haven’t come up with a total cure for AIDS although they have made headway in recent years. Since viruses cannot survive on their own, they live off the body cells of humans and attack their immune system. Therefore, attacking the viral cells means attacking the human cells. HIV suppresses the immune system to a point where it can’t defend the body again. The virus invades the body and then it becomes full blown AIDS at which point the body has no defense mechanisms against the virus.

United Nations officials revealed that AIDS cases worldwide are dropping dramatically. In the past year, AIDS has seen three big developments. In September 2009, researchers came up with a vaccine that can protect 1 in 3 people from getting AIDS. In July 2010, research in South Africa showed that a vaginal gel rubbed with an AIDS drug can reduce the risk of women getting AIDS from infected partners by half. Very recently, researchers came up with a drug that can reduce the chances of infection by 73 percent or more if used daily coupled with the use of condoms and other preventive measures. In the study, if men used this drug half of the time, it reduced their chances by 50 percent. More research is still going on the drug as the CDC [Center for Disease Control] is coming up with guidelines for doctors to prescribe it. The studies showed that contrary to the researchers’ beliefs that a prevention drug will create a false sense of security in people and reduce the use of condoms, the opposite happened.

The next milestone for this drug after setting guidelines for prescription is whether insurance companies and government health care programs will be willing to pay for this drug. In the U.S, this drug costs $5,000-$14,000 per year, whereas in other countries, it costs about $140 a year as it is sold in generic form.

In order to reduce the AIDS epidemic plaguing the human race, one person can make a difference by first being aware of AIDS and how it is contracted. They can then get tested, use condoms and stick to only one sex partner. It is important for every person to equip themselves with this information because AIDS does not show on anybody’s face.

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