Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Truly Mixed Message.

There was some interesting news coming out of England over this past weekend- the World Health Organization has concluded that the threat of an AIDS pandemic among heterosexuals is over. In fact its experts now predict that there won't even be an epidemic affecting straight individuals in any continent other than Africa. I'd expect this to be comforting to some people. In 2006, it was declared that Russia was on the brink of an AIDS catastrophe. Researchers also feared that China, with its massive overpopulation, was also at risk of being overcome by the disease. But apparently everyone was wrong, and folks (hetero guys) need not be quite as paranoid when engaging a new sexual partner. It's natural to wonder what kind of effect this will have in the developing world.

Still wild celebration might be a bit presumptuous. AIDS kills more adults than all wars and conflicts combined. In 2007, there were 33 million recorded cases of people living with HIV. There were 2.4 million who became newly infected. And 2.1 million died from the disease. These aren't the kind of numbers that should inspire the confidence to take the condoms off and screw with abandon. While some people are no doubt going to interpret this latest message as an admission that AIDS will simply go away, it is still a prominent global challenge to public health. If you are a gay man, or an IV drug user, or you frequently patronize sex workers- then it is still just as dangerous as it was last week. And if you are a straight woman, you need to be just as careful as ever.

Meanwhile researchers are still puzzled as to why AIDS is transmitted at such an increased rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. Low rates of circumcision are one key to the problem, as the procedure reduces the risk of infection by 60%. Donated blood is not screened the way it is elsewhere. Additionally, high rates of ulcerative STD's such as herpes aggravate the chances that blood can be exchanged during 'regular' heterosexual sexual intercourse. Add in the effect of a generally younger and more promiscuous population, and a vague picture of the situation begins to coalesce. In a country like Swaziland, such factors have resulted in an infection rate of 40% nationally. Compounding the issue is the fact that many of those who have AIDS on the African continent are living without any treatment.

I remember when I first learned that someone I knew had HIV. It was the early 90's, and it was still considered a death sentence in America. I was dating a woman who had a lot of gay friends, and I was informed that a couple of them had the disease. This was a devastating realization, as these men were so young. Fortunately they also benefited from their youth. They were in relatively good physical health, and they were already monitoring their cell counts. Their positive attitudes, along with the rapidly improving drug cocktails, kept them from feeling inescapably doomed. While many who contracted HIV in the 80's slid quickly into full-blown AIDS that swiftly brought a nasty and painful death, those afflicted in the 90's eventually came to see the virus as something that could be lived with for decades.

Now I know several folks who have had HIV for many years, and you would never know about their conditions unless they chose to share that information. They live outwardly normal lives, and are only encumbered by a huge number of prescription medications. I am sure that they are heartened by the WHO's proclamation, as they certainly wouldn't wish their fate on anyone (other than a few particularly abhorrent politicians). But at the same time they would be justly offended at some of the gloating I have noticed floating through the World Wide Web. Sadly, the latest news will be used as validation for the ignorant beliefs of intolerant hate-mongers. This will surely encourage them in their mission to label HIV "God's curse on homos".

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3 Comments:

Blogger Dagrims said...

Any other link to the 'gloating' that you mention? The article has been removed from that site.

I need to read your posts quicker.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Jeez... I kind of hate to direct any attention to these lunatics... but since you requested it, I have changed the link.

Believe me, a five minute Google search will bring up dozens of sites like this one.

Just type "AIDS is not a threat to heterosexuals" into the search box.

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. Always looking for hate sites, many are very funny.

A most complex disease indeed and seemingly very resistant to a single bullet or method of attack.

12:14 PM  

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