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HIV Not Immediate Death Sentence Now

Updated on November 30, 2009

In America a diagnosis of HIV is not the death sentence it was when the disease was first discovered. In those days, people with HIV would acquire AIDS within 10 years and then lived less than two years.

As a result of research, those who are able to take the medications as prescribed are surviving. These new treatments have been around for about 10 years and, thus far, those who have been successfully treated have not died as a result of AIDS. Due to these results, doctors and researchers do not know the life expectancy for a newly diagnosed patient.

Improved blood tests help physicians decide who should begin treatment, to monitor their treatment and to decide whether to change a treatment that is not working successfully. 

There are still some people who are unable to take the medications due to side effects or other health problems. When untreated, HIV is still as deadly as ever.

People with HIV do face challenges. Heart disease may be related to either HIV or its treatments and liver disease is a problem for those who have both Hepatitis C and HIV. Experts suggest taking simple precautions – monitor and treat cholesterol, stop smoking, treat high blood pressure, etc., - to lower the dangers of these conditions.

The biggest worries researchers have are that the treatment may lose effectiveness due to mutation or built-up immunity and that it will have long-term side effects. They also fear that progress in treatment success will be used as justification to not protect against catching or spreading the disease.

In the meantime, research continues for better medications and a vaccine.

A study known as RV144 or the Thai HIV vaccine clinical trial of about 16,000 participants proved that an experimental vaccine regimen was both safe and approximately 31% effective in preventing HIV infection. This is the first vaccine to successfully reduce the risk of HIV infection.  

Perfecting a vaccine is still a matter of urgency. Every 9.5 seconds someone in the United States becomes infected with HIV.

As of the end of 2008, 33.4 million people were living with HIV, 2.7 million had been newly infected and 2 million died as of AIDS-related illnesses.

In low to middle income countries AIDS has cut the life expectancy of entire populations nearly in half, however, according to the United Nations there are now three million people on antiretroviral treatment and new infections decreased. 

Even with this progress,  the UN predicts that the current global economic crisis will have a disproportionate impact on the poorest countries and could leave 80% of the world's population without access to prevention, treatment, care and support due to possible reductions in donor funding.

Worldwide, for every two people starting treatment, five people are newly infected with HIV. In mid-2008, an estimated 33 million people were living with HIV and 2 million died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2007.

In most regions, the epidemic has stabilized although prevalence continues to increase

in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The epidemic is most severe in sub-Saharan Africa which is home to 67% of those infected (worldwide) with HIV reside. Almost one third of all new HIV infections and 72%  of all AIDS-related deaths occur in the region. 

Women and girls continue to be affected disproportionately in sub-Saharan Africa. Women account for 60% of the new infections in the region due in part to the severe social, legal and economic disadvantages they often confront. A recent study found that sexual and physical violence is a key determinant of the severity. (Khobotlo et al., 2009)

Until a cure and/or vaccine is discovered, our best hope to eradicate this epidemic is increased education, rehabilitation and/or free syringes for drug abusers, free condoms, increased testing, and pressure on world leaders for funding. 

This is not an ethical nor religious issue. The people who are acting recklessly are going to pose a danger by spreading the disease. We must stop the cycle. Also we need to remove the stigma of the disease. People need to feel secure in telling their partner they have HIV so precautions can be taken.

No one is completely safe from this disease. Those in the medical or legal professions could become infected in the course of their work. A woman could be raped. A partner could be unfaithful and contract the disease. It's time to eradicate HIV/AIDS before it strikes near you.

It's World AIDS Day. Take this opportunity to become educated about this disease and consider making a donation to one of your local organizations.

Fast Facts about HIV Treatment including an explanation of drugs – download (pdf)


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