Around the globe, Dec. 1 is annually recognized as World AIDS Day, a day whose purpose is to raise awareness of the continuing HIV/AIDS pandemic. Sandra Yudilevich Espinoza, an assistant professor in Salem State University’s School of Social Work—and an authority on AIDS/HIV in the Latina population—writes on the current state of the pandemic below.
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first cases of a rare pneumonia (later determined to be an AIDS-related illness) in 1981, millions have become infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and have developed Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). According to the World Health Organization, more than 25 million people have died from HIV/AIDS, including children and adolescents. Thankfully, there have been many positive developments as well.
This we know with certainty: HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS and its transmission happens through contact with infected body fluids such as semen or blood. In addition, HIV can be passed from mother to child in utero, during the birth process, or through breast milk. Discovering the HIV transmission mechanisms has made it possible to prevent HIV infection, stave off its progression to AIDS, and maintain health for increasingly longer periods of time once an AIDS diagnosis is made.
The advent of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HARRT) in 1995 has now made it possible to live a “normal life span” once diagnosed with HIV, rather than progressing to AIDS and dying within a relatively short time. Treating an HIV-positive woman with AZT, one of the first antiretroviral medications available, as early as possible during a pregnancy, along with handling the pregnancy as a high risk one, has reduced an infant’s chances of being HIV-infected at birth to less than 2 percent.
The effect of these treatment discoveries, as well as other advancements, has been fewer HIV infection diagnoses and fewer HIV/AIDS-related deaths in Massachusetts and across the country. Moreover, the time from HIV infection to an AIDS diagnosis has lengthened considerably . In fact, some consider HIV/AIDS to be a “chronic condition” — and therein lies the rub because as statistics demonstrate that is clearly not true for everyone, and for various reasons.