Twenty-two years after HIV got its name, the stigma and discrimination against it continue unabated. Unsurprisingly, for a whole lot of reasons it remains the biggest challenge of modern medicine in the foreseeable future. Several advancements were made since the disease was first identified, which includes new forms of treatment and more information about the ways the virus acts in our system, but an actual cure is still off the charts. Restricted to core groups or sub-groups, this includes men who have sex with men, certain ethnic minorities and young adults in the past, is today's everyone's fear.
But where it all began? How was the disease discovered and identified?
There's no evidence, as yet, to gives a sense as to where and how the HIV (Human
Immunodeficiency Virus) outbreak, but scientists suggest that it might have
sprung from primates, through a process called Zoonosis ( species jumping cross-infection),
through which a disease can pass on from other species to humans. Originally,
the disease may have started in Africa, where researches discovered a very similar
strand of virus in simians. Another possibility is that the virus would get
into the human system as some chimpanzee species served as game-food. Reportedly,
the first cases of which would become AIDS dates from 1978, when a few gay men
from USA and Sweden and also straight men from Haiti and Tanzania began to show
signs of an extremely virulent form of pneumonia. Even without previous history
of illness, those young and healthy men showed notoriously weak immune systems.
In the middle of 1981, other cases of pneumonia among people with very low immune
cells count led doctors to believe they were facing some sort of new disease.
Some months later, American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found
that a disease as such linked to low blood count somehow.
In 1982, the medical community was already alarmed by how fast and devastating
were the symptoms of such a disease. On July 27th, the term Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was coined for the first time and the disease is
then recognized as actually epidemic. At this point, the average life expectancy
for an AIDS patient was 18 months. American researches discovered and isolated
the AIDS virus for the first time in 1984, and the virus receives the name of
HTLVIII. However, French researches claim that they have discovered the virus
an year before that, which was baptized as LA V. The first antibody test to
AIDS is approved in 1985, when the number of known deaths in the US is up to
5636 that year alone.
AIDS was regarded as the "gay virus" or the "gay cancer"
as it appeared to solely affect sexually astray individuals, at the time.
Hygiene aside, in the devil-may-care, come-one-come-all youth, AIDS was initially
, almost exclusively, talked about as a gay problem with the whole drug user
issues trailing on the agenda as a poor second.
Such a notoriety, unfortunately, remains until today, alas AIDS bigotry is option-related
for some. So much for those bible bashers.
When the attempt to educate us sexually activated types began, one of the major
points of discussion was the genuine belief that any kind of physical relationship
represented on TV and in the movies would, perforce, have to acknowledge the
new threat to your health.
When those comically *****-footed AIDS ads appeared in the early 80s you'd have
thought your death was imminent if you so much as clasped eyes on a penis.
The world, however, has changed and mercifully wised up since then. The joy
of youth, of course, is that you can't imagine being 30,never mind being ill.
Yes, indeed, youth is wasted on the young.
At first, contamination was believed, bound to certain groups of people namely
"high-risk groups", "( the fact, incidentally, the groups worst-affected
by this disease are, respectively, gay men, straight men and straight woman,
shows that one cannot generalize about AIDS or imagine a prevention strategy
that works for one will necessarily work for another) which includes homosexuals,
drug-users and prostitutes.
As it was confirmed that AIDS could be transmitted by contact of body fluids
and was of no relation to sexual orientation, ethnicity, lifestyle, let alone
gender, world-class campaigners were set into motion in order to elucidate the
real causes of which a person could be infected (unprotected sex, blood-transfusion
and sharing unsterilised injection equipment, even at specialized centers).
Unfortunately, prejudice against infected people and yet homophobia had been
already spreading just as fast as the disease itself. With the US shutting its
doors for HIV infected visitors and travelers of less graded origins, as though
theirs were traceable, so were after testing positive many employees made redundant.
But we'd fall over ourselves with shock if US policies featured even a couple
of lines referring to a character practicing safe-sex, simply acknowledging
that it was now, or should be, part of everyone's life.
The FDA approves the first anti-HIV drug, called Zidovudine (AZT) in 1987.
Although far from being a cure, the drug might improve the life quality and
the life expectancy of patients. However, the cost of the drug is too high for
third-world class standards (already leading on in number of infected patients).
The bottom-line is now the use of condoms as the main form of avoiding transmission,
since most cases occur through sexual intercourse. In 1993, the same year the
female condom is approved by FDA as an alternative to prevent body-fluid exchange
during intercourse, the same office refuses to allow condom testing for anal
sex, saying sodomy is illegal.
Thus far, science has reached several advancements regarding alternative treatment.
From stronger drugs, to treatments involving inhibitors to the virus replication,
and the search for genetic-based treatments, an AIDS diagnosis is no longer
an immediate "death sentence", as the average life expectancy may
surpass 14 years. The infected person is today able to live an almost normal
life, despite constant exams, daily medication, and extreme care concerning
his life with peers, all stigmatization included.
However, the third world situation is today the biggest concern. AIDS is now
the leading cause of death in Asia and specially Africa, as up to 80% of all
AIDS deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as two-thirds of the entire
world's infected population. This situation is primarily due to the fact that
African governments cannot afford enough antiretroviral drugs for at least a
small part of the population. Lack of proper information, starvation, religious
issues, lifestyle, high birth rates and other serious diseases are some of the
factors that makes the situation even worse. A great amount of Africans are
already HIV positive before they are even born.
In 1997, the estimate worldwide death toll was 6.400.000 people, and the number
of HIV positives was nearly 22.000.000 (more than the total population of Australia).