December is AIDS Awareness Month
Grand River Health Community Relations Specialist
AIDS is a medical condition and stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and a consequence of untreated HIV which can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections.
Since AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, an unprecedented number of people have been affected by the global AIDS epidemic. According to US News, in 2016, there were roughly 36.7 million people globally living with HIV – the majority of whom were adults. When looking at data set across all ages, the number of people living with HIV has generally increased overtime. About 1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016.
The epidemic has had a devastating impact on societies, economies and infrastructures. In countries most severely affected, life expectancy has been reduced by as much as 20 years.
Young adults in their productive years are the most “at-risk” population and thus many countries dealing with the epidemic have faced a decline in economic growth and an increase in household poverty. HIV and AIDS in Asia has caused a greater loss of productivity more than any other disease. An adult’s most productive years are also their most reproductive and so many of the age group who have died from AIDS have left children behind. According to Science Daily, in sub-Saharan Africa the AIDS epidemic has orphaned nearly 15 million children.
According to AIDS.gov, more than one million Americans are living with HIV, but one in five of them are not aware they are infected. AIDS is not confined to any one group of people and while the total number of people with HIV in the United States has increased recently, the annual number of new infections has remained relatively stable.
In the early 1980s when the AIDS epidemic began, people living with HIV were not likely to live more than a few years. However, since 1996, the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has dramatically improved the quality of life for people with HIV.
ART prevents the HIV virus from multiplying inside a person, helps the body’s immune cells live longer, lowers a person’s risk of developing a non-HIV-related illness, and reduces the chances of transmitting HIV to others.
In addition, The Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine has a highly regarded HIV/AIDS research program with extensive NIH-funded studies in prevention and therapeutic interventions.
While there is no known cure for HIV, treatment options are much better than they were a few decades ago. Because of medical advancements, many people now live long, active lives with HIV.
Before you start treatment, tell your doctor about all of your past health issues and illnesses. Let them know about any alternative or complementary therapies you’re using, as well as any supplements or drugs you’re taking now: prescription, over the counter, and recreational.
Daily medication and regular testing can help keep the virus under control and slow the effects on your body for many years.
WebMD, MedlinePlus, USNews, AIDS Research and Therapy, unisefusa.org
Blair Bracken is Grand River Health Community Relations specialist.