What You Need to Know About HIV + AIDS Today

What You Need to Know About HIV + AIDS Today

Why you should care

Because there are a lot of people living on the margins of society who are still coping with HIV and AIDS, and their nations may not be doing enough to help them.

This week marks the 20th annual International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. We’ve come a long way from the days when an American kid was ostracized over the fallout from an infected blood transfusion. But in many parts of the world, the spread and mismanagement of the disease continues.

Surveys by the World Health Organization found that in the African nations of Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana, more than 20 percent of adults ages 15–49 are infected with HIV.

Who’s at risk

  • Female sex workers are 14 times more likely to have HIV than other women.
  • Gay men are 19 times more likely to have HIV than the general population.
  • Transgender women and intravenous drug uses are almost 50 times more likely to have HIV than other adults.

Where risk is being addressed

  • 70 percent of countries are explicitly addressing the needs of gay men and sex workers, according to the WHO, which called out Thailand as a model for testing and outreach to help halt the spread of HIV among prostitutes.
  • 40 percent are addressing the needs of intravenous drug users. A big area of fail: Eastern Europe, where about half of those living with HIV shoot up, but only a third of those have access to potentially lifesaving drugs.
  • Transgender people, while among the most vulnerable populations, have been almost completely left out of policy conversations.

State of prevention

There may be no cure for HIV or AIDS, but preventive measures are widely known. Condoms are cheap and can help keep people safe. The WHO figures that with more preventive use of HIV drugs — the WHO goes so far as to suggest that all gay men should take them, whether they’ve been diagnosed or not — the disease rates could tumble up to 25 percent, which translates to about 1 million fewer people infected in the next decade.

But while the tools may seem simple, in reality great challenges remain for establishing even basic prevention education. In many areas, homosexuality remains so taboo that governments — from Iran to Nigeria — outlaw it.

State of detection

Self-testing could be another option — people won’t seek treatment unless they know they’re infected. And they would (hopefully) take steps to prevent further infections if they knew they carried the virus.

HIV self-testing kits are available on the U.S. market, but lack approval in many other nations — including African ones where the need might seem most dire, according to one report. And the tests aren’t all-inclusive, requiring followups with a doctor.

Twenty years on, we’ve come a long way in addressing the all-too-often marginalized people who remain the most likely to contract the virus — but there’s still a long, long way to go.

Plane Crash Impact

Among the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight downed in eastern Ukraine were six people traveling to the AIDS conference, including one of the world’s most prominent AIDS researchers, professor Joep Lange of the University of Amsterdam.

According to the BBC: “He trialled antiretroviral therapies, which have transformed HIV into a manageable disease. He also worked on preventing the virus passing from mother to child during pregnancy and labour.”

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