World AIDS Day 2019
November 26, 2019
For the past 31 years, World AIDS Day—observed annually on December 1st—has ignited conversations about HIV/AIDS as well as helped bring attention to ways of improving treatment options. The U.S. theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community.” In honor of World AIDS Day, I wanted to share some information about advancements in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
What Is HIV/AIDS?
But before I get to that, sometimes, people don’t know the difference between HIV and AIDS. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that damages the immune system. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is now referred to as stage 3 of an HIV infection, the most severe stage. The three stages of HIV infection are (1) acute HIV infection, (2) chronic HIV infection and (3) acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). According to HIV.gov, in 2018, there were approximately 37.9 million people globally living with HIV/AIDS, but only 79 percent of people with HIV knew their HIV status, which is why getting tested is so important.
While still a serious health concern, especially in parts of the world without access to things like HIV testing and treatment, HIV now often does not advance to AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) uses medication to stop HIV from progressing in the body. TasP (treatment as prevention) uses ART to reduce the amount of virus in the body—also called viral load—of someone who is HIV positive. If a person’s viral load is low enough, HIV becomes undetectable in their body. That person will then no longer be at risk of sexually transmitting the virus.
Increasing Access to Testing and Treatment
However, again, not everyone has access to these treatments. According to HIV.gov, in 2018, 23.3 million people with HIV (62%) used ART globally. While this is great, and a big increase from years past, there are still several communities that don’t have the privilege of treatment.
Thanks to today’s scientific advances, people with HIV don’t develop AIDS as often as they used to. However, if someone has HIV and does not receive treatment, it will likely advance to AIDS in approximately 10 years. It’s still necessary to practice safer sex by using condoms as well as to get tested for HIV.
Both modern medicine and activism continue to bring us closer to a cure for people living with HIV/AIDS. In the meantime, people with HIV who use ART as prescribed can live for a long time. But it’s important that we also try to spread access to both testing and treatment so that everyone can benefit from these advances.