World AIDS Day 2021

World AIDS Day 2021

- By JJ

What is World AIDS Day?
Created in 1988, World AIDS Day is an international day designated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic. Each year has its own theme, or a specific focus chosen by the Global Steering Committee of the World AIDS Campaign, following consultations with UNAIDS and the WHO. The theme for 2021 is “End Inequalities. End AIDS.”

 In 2020, there were an estimated 37,700,000 people living with HIV, with 680,000 deaths recorded in HIV-related causes and 1,500,000 people newly infected in the same year. Only 73% of people living with HIV were estimated to be receiving the ART (antiretroviral therapy) in 2020. The COVID pandemic, as pointed out by the UN, exacerbated the already existing inequalities and disrupted service to treatment for AIDS, making the lives of many people more challenging. 

 The nations of the UN (including the US) once committed to ending AIDS by 2030, but due to structural inequalities, this goal may not be met. 

What is HIV/AIDS?
For those who may not understand what AIDS is, the term is an abbreviation of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and it is a life-threatening condition caused by HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus. The HIV virus attacks the immune system in people and reduces one’s resistance to other diseases.

It is believed that HIV infections in humans first came from a type of chimpanzee in Central Africa, and it probably first came into contact with humans who hunted the chimpanzees and came into contact with their blood. According to multiple studies, HIV may have made its first jump from chimpanzees to humans in the 1800s. Over the next several decades, HIV slowly made its way across Africa and then into other parts of the world. In the mid to late 1970s, it came to the US, creating a devastating pandemic. 

Early symptoms of infection, occurring usually 2 to 4 weeks after infection, can resemble flu symptoms, with fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and rash being some commonly reported symptoms. There are 3 stages of HIV for those who do not get treated, though medicine and treatment can help slow or stop the progression. 
Stage One: Acute HIV Infection
When a person has a large amount of HIV in their blood and are very contagious, they may feel flu-like symptoms or may not even feel sick at all. This is the time to get an antigen/antibody test or nucleic acid test (NAT) to diagnose the infection. 

Stage Two: Chronic HIV Infection
In this stage, HIV is still active but reproduces at a low level. People can transmit HIV in this stage, and they may or may not feel sick. Without taking any medicine, this phase can still last for a decade or longer for some, but others may progress faster. If the person is taking HIV medicine as prescribed, they may remain in this stage and never progress to the third stage. 

Stage Three: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
AIDS is the most severe phase of the HIV infection. People who have AIDS have badly damaged immune systems, increasing their likelihood of getting severe illnesses. They have a high viral load and can be very infectious. Without treatment, people with AIDS are expected to survive only three years. 

What can we do?
For those who have AIDS, treatment is the most important thing. Access to medicine and healthcare can help extend their life expectancy and lower the chances of infecting others. However, there is a distinct inequality in access to this healthcare worldwide. For this year’s theme, the World AIDS Campaign is hoping to overcome these inequalities and increase access for all to AIDS healthcare. 

Usually, there is a list of small things one can do to bring about change, but when talking about access to healthcare and stopping the AIDS pandemic, the biggest thing we can do is put pressure on our government. Governments must move from promising to help to actual action. They must eliminate discriminatory practices, reduce barriers in the access to AIDS healthcare, and ensure equal opportunities for all. 

 According to UN AIDS, there must be a worldwide change in equal access to medications, vaccines, and health technologies, human rights to tackle pandemics and build trust between people and governments, and community-led and people-centered infrastructure. If we are to meet the goal of ending AIDS by 2030, we only have about 9 years and a mountain of obstacles in our way. It’s time for the governments who promised to help bring about change to deliver.

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