Tuesday, June 06, 2006

25 Years of AIDS

This week we observe a grim milestone…the 25th anniversary of the first documented AIDS cases in the CDC’s MMWR. Classified as a disease of sin and the poor, the storm was permitted to gather momentum. Hopefully everyone understands that AIDS doesn’t respect any borders; geographically, socially, ethnically, or religiously. Any life can be touched with AIDS…at any stage of life.

Today probably the most optimistic outlooks include HIV/AIDS on the landscape as for the foreseeable future. The experts hope for finding treatment regimes that facilitate infected individuals living productively with their viral infection. As someone who has worked on the front lines of medical establishment for more than a decade, in the remote corners of the world, that is a compromise I would settle for as well.

Naively we all entered the field believing eradication would occur in our lifetime. Amongst the informed, a truce seems an amicable conciliation. I remember when a representative of a government agency addressed my class with offers of fellowships specializing in AIDS. My reaction was “…what a waste of a career,” feeling that a cure was just around the corner. That was nearly 20 years ago. Interestingly, pursuing a more glamorous area, the gravity of AIDS still pulled me back. I myself have never been touched by AIDS amongst family or friends, but one only has to visit an AIDS ward to understand what the struggle is really all about. Look into the eyes of someone’s mother or father, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s wife or husband. Look into their eyes and recognize, “but for the grace of God, go I.” There isn’t much opportunity for retrospection, but I still believe my work, and that of my colleagues, makes a difference in the lives of those who are able to re-enter their lives following a positive diagnosis of HIV. Surfing the global current of technology, collaboration, and political will, we reclaim our humanity from the jaws of AIDS…one person at a time. Admittedly there are times when I feel like the little boy plugging the dam with my finger. I am sure that I am not the only one. Sustaining a person’s ability to love, contribute to society, and enjoy the best quality of life possible, my work does matter.

There has always been a sociological struggle…fighting against the AIDS-related stigma. An unforeseen consequence of gaining the upper-hand in that battle has been a newly-formed apathy towards HIV-infection. Regrettably, in some corners the success of treatment regimes has led to a false-sense of security. Young people may be unaware of the early images of AIDS no longer fear contracting it, resulting in surging new infection rates in Western nations. Now is no time to become complacent. Living with HIV still means fighting for your life…every single day! The HIV retrovirus is not sitting-still while we ramp-up our production of treatment cocktails. Treatments are trying to keep pace with a constantly mutating enemy. Our young people must aid in the struggle by exercising the only proven cure for AIDS…not to become infected at all. Avail yourself whatever means in your power to protect yourself, and those you love, from infection. In that way, we are all on the front-lines fighting the proliferation of HIV/AIDS.

Invoking the words of a period gone-by, “…if you see a good fight…join it!”
For an interesting retrospective, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/05/health/05aids.html


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