December 1st Is World AIDS Day – Some Good News, Yet A Ways To Go

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December 1st is World AIDS Day. This time around, we have a few positive steps toward HIV prevention to celebrate, yet much work still remains.

AIDS Awareness

Photo: Seth_Loader via Flikr

AIDS Awareness

Every year, December 1st marks the celebration of World AIDS Day.  Today represents a day to acknowledge progress that has been made in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the amount of work still left ahead of us.  This year’s World AIDS Day is quite remarkable with three significant positive steps toward finding a cure for the virus and preventing the further spread of it.

Nearing Effective Medical Solutions

The efforts of medical researchers and practitioners represent at least three important tasks: treating those who are living with HIV/AIDS to maintain positive health, researching strategies to prevent the transmission of HIV, and the difficult task of finding “the cure.”  Last week, the Centers for Disease Control announced the findings of a recent study of a drug that partially prevents the transmission of the virus.  The drug (Truvada), a once-daily pill, provided an average of over 40% additional protection against the virus in a sample of men who have sex with men (MSM); for those who used the pill every day, along with other safe-sex measures (e.g., condom use) saw much more additional protection.  Of course, much more research is necessary on the safety and efficacy of the drug.

From The Pope Himself

After many years opposing the use of condoms during sexual activity, the current Pope made a statement that may suggest new approval from the Catholic Church to use condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.  Pope Benedict XVI’s comments were somewhat ambiguous, leaving many to question the full implications of the Pope’s new stance.  At the least, this may reflect a shift in the Chuch’s teachings to acknowledge the reality of HIV/AIDS and sexual health around the world.

Fewer New Cases Worldwide

Last week, the United Nations released a report suggesting that the number of new HIV infections has dropped by about 20% worldwide since the late 1990s.  Compared to the 3.1 million infections in 1999, 2009 saw 2.6 million infections, bringing the total number of people living with HIV/AIDS to 33.3 million as of the end of 2009.  The slowing of the rate of new infections has been attributed partly to better medical care and more, effective use of condoms to prevent transmission of the virus.

More To Do…

As medical researchers continue to inch forward to finding solutions to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS and a cure for the virus, other work still remains.  Still today, now 30 years into the pandemic, people living with HIV/AIDS face stigmatization and discrimination.  Increasingly, they face the risk of being charged as criminals for coming into contact with HIV-negative individuals, whether through consensual sexual activity, biting, or spitting.

Effectively addressing and preventing HIV is further complicated by other forms of prejudice (e.g., homophobia, racism).  That is, for some, HIV/AIDS is assumed to be a “gay issue,” and thus, heterosexuals assume they do not acknowledge their own risk for HIV transmission, as well as other sexually transmitted infections.  Thus, it is necessary to understand how HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual health in general are connected to inequality and health disparities across social groups.

Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman

received his PhD in sociology at Indiana University. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond. Dr. Grollman's research interests lie in medical sociology, social psychology, sexualities, and race/gender/class. You can see his personal blog at http://egrollman.com.
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