World AIDS Day

eI remember the first time I was tested for HIV. It was an incredibly traumatic experience. I knew I wasn't a carrier, but it still made me nervous just to take the test. The traveling AIDS quilt project had come to town and it blew me away to see it. They were offering free testing at FSU and I took them up on it. A couple of days later, I went in to get the results: I was not infected. Since then I've been tested one other time for life insurance. Today, tests are private and the results come back quickly. (MORE INFO) If you've never been tested, make yourself a promise that you will be tested before the end of the year.

Today is World AIDS Day. It's time to think about how we help people with AIDS and those infected with HIV. It's also time to remember how important it is to teach our children, parents, and ourselves about the dangers of AIDS.

HUH? Teach our parents? Yes, that's right. The rate of infection is growing fastest among those under 20 years of age and those over 55 years of age. These two generations weren't exposed to the massive education efforts in our schools during the 1980s and 1990s. And, unfortunately, the lack of education is having a terrible effect on them.

As we go about our day-to-day routines, AIDS continues to sweep across the world unrestrained and undeterred by our previous efforts to slow the rate of infections:

  • 42 million people are living with the HIV virus, up from 40 million in 2001.
  • 5 million new infections occurred during 2002, and three million individuals will die of AIDS-related causes this year.
  • Women now account for 50% of all HIV cases. Infected women pose an even greater threat as the disease can be passed to their sexual partners and to their children through childbirth and/or breastfeeding.
  • 78% of all women infected were infected by heterosexual contacts.
  • The sub-Saharan African is still "by far" the region most affected by HIV/AIDS, and women in that region make up 70% of all HIV cases (Ross, Associated Press, 11/26).
  • In the US, African Americans account for 54% of new infections, but represent approximately 13% of the population.
  • As of December 2000, 448,060 Americans had died of AIDS and related diseases.
  • China, India and other Asian nations have approximately 7.2 million HIV-positive individuals — nearly one million more than last year — and 11 million more infections could occur there by 2007.
  • UNICEF estimates some three million children are living with HIV/AIDS, and 13.4 million children under age 15–mostly in sub-Saharan Africa–have lost one or both parents to the disease.

    And as terrible and deadly as the AIDS virus is, it greatly compounds other dangers which might seen unrelated, for example:
    The HIV/AIDS pandemic is "not only compounding" the famine in southern Africa, it is "possibly causing it," Stephen Lewis, the U.N. Secretary General's special envoy on HIV/AIDS, said yesterday at the start of a three-week tour of the region, the Associated Press reports (Kraft, Associated Press, 11/27). According to the biannual report on the state of HIV/AIDS worldwide released yesterday by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, more than 14 million people are now at risk of starvation in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The "predominantly agricultural" societies in these countries are "fighting an uphill battle" against HIV/AIDS, with more than five million adults out of the total adult population of 26 million living with HIV/AIDS, as well as approximately 600,000 HIV-positive children under the age of 15 in the countries. In addition, the report found that seven million agricultural workers in 25 African countries have died of AIDS since 1985, including nearly 500,000 people "in their productive prime" from the six countries threatened by famine (Xinhua News Agency, 11/26). According to the Associated Press, Lewis was "outspoken in stressing [HIV/AIDS'] centrality" to the food crisis, which differs from previous African famines because AIDS is essentially "wiping out the work force." In addition, Lewis said the "consequences are especially dire" for a continent where most farming is done by women, who make up the majority of those infected with HIV in southern Africa. Lewis added, "You can't decimate your agricultural workers and expect even to produce the amount (of food) you've had before … [T]hat's what makes this so different." Lewis will visit Nambia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi on his tour and will meet with AIDS patients, government officials, representatives of donor countries and relief agencies (Associated Press, 11/27).

    We are no longer afforded the luxury of ignoring the AIDS epidemic. Educating ourselves and our families is the only way to protect ourselves from this deadly disease. For those of you I know and love, please check through the information below. For those of you I've never met, please join me in educating your families.

    If you are going to "live dangerously", at least consider those people in your life may endanger. Use condoms. Do not share needles. Get tested.

    For more information, please visit:
    United Nations AIDS Project
    AIDS 101
    WebMD
    AARP Modern Maturity focus on AIDS in Seniors
    U.S. Centers for Disease Control
    The NAMES Project
    Pediatric AIDS Foundation
    Gay Men's Health Crisis
    The Body
    Yahoo!
    AIDS Testing Information
    In-Home AIDS Tests (1, 2, 3)

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