Over time, humanity has faced a plethora of global extinction level events that could have driven us to the end of humanity. The Black Plague, World War 2, Cold War and several other global events have tested us and somehow we have withstood against all odds and are still thriving on earth. In the 21st century, we face a new crisis called HIV/AIDS, that needs to be contained as soon as possible before it can wipe out the entire human race.
Researches still haven’t been able to pin point the exact event where the human population got infected. We’ve managed to trace the origin of the HIV virus, to have mutated from the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) found in chimpanzees in Central Africa after coming in contact with human blood. However, the first case on U.S soil for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was reported in 1981. Since the world was unaware of the existence of this virus for decades, it was able to spread through Africa due to urbanization and over the years due to rapid technological advancements and globalization, the virus spread globally until the first case was finally discovered in 1959.
HIV is a pathogen that can only be transmitted by blood. The 4 most common methods of infection are:
1. Shared needles during the use of drugs such as heroin, meth etc.
2. Unprotected Sexual Intercourse of any orientation,
3. Unsafe blood transfusions and blood by-products
4. Transmission from mother to child at any point from pregnancy to breast feeding.
From 1983, since the identification of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, researchers have been driven towards pinpointing the origin of the virus to better understand it. The roots of H1V-1 was discovered in 1999 by an global team of academics comprising of doctors, analysts, anthropologists, etc. HIV-1 is the predominant strain of HIV in the developed world. The team of researchers were able to locate the origin of the source to be from chimpanzees that are native to West Equatorial Africa. The researchers believe that Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) in the infected blood of the chimpanzees later developed into HIV-1, when hunters came in contact with it. The continued spread of HIV is due to many factors. In a world that is technologically advanced, we fail to find a permanent cure and these advancements have only contributed to the spread. For example, continued developments to transportation by air has made it dangerously easy for people who don’t know that they have the infection, to travel to a country, and spread the disease unknowingly. Warfare, sex, shared drug use, economic state has not only affected Africa but also and the entire world.
To combat this increasing spread of HIV, we need to study and understand how it is distributed through various populations and identify the various factors that contribute to it. This is “Epidemiology”. Analyzing data like this can lead us to discover why only some people are affected by certain diseases, while others are not.
Even though AIDS was identified in 1981, it was not until 1983 when researchers realized that this virus was resulting in a disease that can break down your immune system allowing you to be prone to other dangerous infections. In the United States, the first full blown AIDS case was reported in State of Washington. In 2013, almost 19000 people had been diagnosed with HIV and 6000 casualties were recorded. Further analysis also showed that 55% of the infected were concentrated in King County.
HIV is not confined to specific group of individuals. The infected are from all backgrounds regardless of race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identification, financial status, etc. Analyzing data from 2008 – 2013, it was noticed that 85% of the new cases were men and 15% were women. Looking at it from a racial perspective, 57% were white, 17% were black, 16% were Hispanic, 5% were Asians and the remaining were of various other races. Unfortunately, most infected people have not been tested and are not aware of their condition. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that an estimated 1.2 million people are living with the virus. It is also spread out across people of varying ages starting from 13 years old. 168000 (14%) are not even aware that they are infected. The good news is that this number is a 25% drop from 2003 and a 20% drop from 2012. This is an indicator that the global effects pooled into combat the spread of the infection is proving to be effective.
The most difficult part in this process is to educate society to make them aware of resources available to get tested. Once they are tested and they turn out to be HIV positive, studies show that people ensure that it is contained to themselves and not spread to the people around them. Once well informed of all available resources, they also have options to get the right medical care to limit the spread of HIV by at least 96%. Studies indicate that almost 95% of the infected population do not transmit the virus to others. CDC estimated that only 4 out of every 100 people with the infection in the United States, transmit the virus to another. When compared, the rate of transmission during the 1980s were 89% higher. The decrease is a result of increased free testing procedures, transmission prevention counselling and up to date treatment plans for those affected. The rates of transmission has remained at a steady rate recently with about 50000 new cases per year. To most this may seem like a very high number of cases per year, but this is still progress that we are making. We are making headway in the battle against AIDS. We were at a great disadvantage when we didn’t even know what aids was almost 50 years ago. But today we have leveled the playing field finally. Stabilizing the spread is a huge victory for humanity.
Unfortunately, globally we still need to make a lot of effort to fight this battle. There are almost 35 million infected people comprising of 3.2 million children, 2.1 million teenagers, 25.5 million within the age of 20 - 50 and 4.2 million people are elderly. However, we are still making gradual progress as well. When comparing statistics from 2001, there has been a 38% decrease in the number of new infections and a 58% drop in the number of infections amid children. Despite our efforts to contain the infection and limit the spread we still lack a cure for it. This has resulted in 39 million deaths since AIDS was first identified. The global regions with highest number of casualties are Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia Eastern Europe and Latin America. The highest number of deaths in any year was recorded in 2005 but since then the number of deaths per year has only been decreasing as indicated in the graph above.
The decline is a result of antiviral drug treatments developed in 1996. Over the years, improvements have been made constantly to help fight the virus better. Even though people have access to these treatments it does not help everyone the way you would want it to. The side effects cant be handled by most patients and without proper health care plans, these remedies are very expensive and not everyone can afford these. People that live with the virus in developing countries may have little to no access to the different treatments that could help them.
While fighting this battle against HIV/AIDS, we have also been fighting another battle alongside it. The battle of eradicating stigma associated with people infected with the virus has been ongoing since the start of the epidemic. For example, since the virus originated from Africa, the disease was associated with the African American population. However, research suggests otherwise when it turned out that 57% of the infected were white. We need to educate the society to help them understand HIV for what it is and not what they think it is. We need to thoroughly emphasize that even though people are infected with HIV, they still have the same rights as every other human being and should not be treated in any other way. Another approach to eradicate the stigma associated with the disease is to encourage them to take a stand when they feel like their rights are infringed. We need to fight both these battles simultaneously, if not stigma can hinder people from getting tested and following up with the right treatment procedures. This will dissolve every bit of progress we’ve made in the past couple decades and set us backwards, since this increases the chances of transmissions in society.
In this fight we need to take a unified global stance, if we our to have a fighting chance and to survive through this century. We need to pull in efforts to ensure humanity’s survival. One such movement was the UNAIDS and WHO’s Global Health Workforce to push the Zero Discrimination in Health Care agenda. This serves the purpose to ensure that anyone, anywhere has the right to get the health care they need without being discriminated. For the sake of humanity, we need more global initiatives to win this fight against HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with it. We are making solid efforts to prevent and contain till this day. The next obstacle is to find a cure to the virus itself. It is up to researchers, medical professionals and anthropologists to help humanity by pooling in all their efforts to understand the virus from all perspectives to find a cure to save humanity.
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