Today is World AIDS Day and the more you know about this horrific plague, the more you should care about us finding a cure and supporting groups that are trying to limit the spread of this disease. According to UNAIDS, for example, 33.4 million people are currently living with either HIV infection or AIDS itself, of which 1.2 million are children under the age of fifteen. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control report that there are over 650,000 citizens with HIV and that 60% of the HIV cases reported since 1998 have resulted in the death of the patient.
The American Social Health Association offers Trends in AIDS and HIV, and the CDC has this excellent set of Commonly Asked Questions about AIDS and HIV. The National Library of Medicine (a part of the National Institutes of Health) offers a comprehensive AIDS/HIV Resource Lists, and the Mayo Clinic has a comprehensive HIV/AIDS Overview, that starts out with this clear explanation for those of you that don’t know anything about this disease beyond the cultural rumor mill:
“AIDS is a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging or destroying the cells of your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to effectively fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause disease. This makes you more susceptible to certain types of cancers and to opportunistic infections your body would normally resist.
“The virus and the infection itself are known as HIV. The term AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is used to mean the later stages of HIV infection. Thus, the terms HIV infection and AIDS refer to different stages of the same disease.”
The theme of today’s World AIDS Day is Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS and I’d like to quote today’s World AIDS Day message from Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, who puts all this in sobering perspective:
“This World AIDS Day, the news is sobering — the epidemic continues to spread in every region of the world. The number of people living with HIV globally has reached its highest level with close to 40 million people, up from 36.6 million in 2002… The number of women living with HIV is on the rise in every region. Today the face of AIDS is increasingly young and female…
“Prevention methods such as the “ABC” approach — Abstinence, Be faithful and use Condoms — are good, but not enough to protect women where gender inequality is pervasive… half of all women live on less than US$2 a day; illiteracy rates among women are nearly 50 percent higher than among men in many countries; only a small fraction of land is owned by women.
“We need to give girls everywhere a chance at education, and petition governments around the world to enable women to own and inherit property. Women who are economically self-sufficient and secure are far less vulnerable to HIV…
“If we can do a better job preventing HIV among women and girls, we can ultimately get ahead of the epidemic and save millions upon millions of lives… Together we must be bold by challenging inequality whenever and wherever it appears — as we strive for a world free of AIDS.”
So what are you doing, today, to try and help this epidemic stop killing millions of people – including millions of children – every year? One way my family is helping is with our support of the Institute for Applied Biomedicine and UNESCO.