Blog of Mass Distraction

Friday, June 02, 2006

25 years later

It was 25 years ago that HIV and AIDS first appeared. It was first seen as a rare form of pneumonia, or other AIDS related illnesses, that affected gay men in the United States. It was a few years later that it was discovered to be the monster virus that it is known as today. When scientists found out how it behaved they realized there was a pending epidemic; the extended dormancy of the virus (up to 10 years) meant that there were thousands if not tens of thousands already infected and showing no signs.
Moreover, because of the strange biology of the HIV virus it's extremely difficult to fight it, within ourselves or with medications. HIV has a high sugar molecule content in the shell that surrounds its genetic material. This provides a barrier that protects the virus and the shell itself is seen as an innocuous sugar particle by our immune system. The virus can also rapidly mutate giving it a very strong resistance to treatments and possible vaccines. The long dormancy period, previously mentioned, allows it to infect many other people while it quietly inhabits a victim's body.
While was initially seen as a disease affecting gay men (and the homosexual community is still dealing with it today), globally the face of AIDS has become poor women in the developing world. Women are disproportionately affected because men tend to have high risk behaviours and more sexual partners. Thus infected men will infect all women they have unprotected sex with. Marriage has become one of the highest risk factors for women in developing countries. Many husbands are forced to migrate to other regions to search for work and support their family. Many of these men will have other sexual partners while away from their wives or make use of sex workers. The husband becomes infected, returns to his family and infects his wife and she infects any new children they may have. This pattern has lead to an enormous number of AIDS orphans since both the parents eventually die of the disease and the children, many already infected, are left to be cared for by relatives or the eldest sibling. This has happened to millions of children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Recently as well, India has gained the dubious honour of having the highest number of people living with HIV. It surpassed South Africa and now has some 5 million infected. The percentage of population however infected in India is still incredibly low; India has over 1 billion people, as opposed to South Africa with nearly 50 million.
Since its discovery AIDS has killed some 25 million people and there are now over 40 million people living with HIV. Last year alone about 2.8 million people died of AIDS related illnesses.1 That's over 7500 people each day. And over 500,000 of those whom died were children.

1. UNAIDS 2006 Global Report


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