AIDS is not an issue we can just ignore

I have friends who say they don’t like to watch the news because it’s depressing, or focuses too much on things happening in other countries that don’t impact them. But as the world turns its attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis this December, and news reports are coming in from places like South Africa, we can’t afford to simply tune it out. There are more than 33 million people living with HIV across the globe, and the United States has the highest adult incidence rate in North America.

AIDS – Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome – is caused by infection with a virus called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus is transmitted genetically, through blood-to-blood and sexual contact, but can infect anyone – young and old, black and white. According to the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, nearly 3 million people were newly infected in 2008 alone, and 2 million AIDS patients died the same year. Of these 2 million, 280,000 were children – more than the number of residents in Newark, New Jersey. And these numbers are only growing – especially in developing countries that have little access to effective medicine and treatments.

Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 1 million people are living with HIV. One in five of those don’t know they have it. Fortunately, new and innovative treatments are helping many with the disease live longer, healthier lives. But many of these treatments are more effective if you begin them before the disease has advanced; that’s why screenings are so important. It can help save your life and that of your partner.

For those living with the disease now, their reality differs significantly from those diagnosed in the 1990s. According to a recent Canadian study, a 20-year-old diagnosed with HIV can now expect to live 13 years longer than the same person diagnosed with the virus in 1996. Scientific advancements like highly active anti-retroviral therapies have accounted for a more than 70 percent drop in the annual number of deaths in the U.S. due to AIDS, according to the CDC.

There is still more work to be done. Currently, America’s biopharmaceutical research(?) companies have 97 medicines in development to treat HIV and AIDS. These drugs are either in human clinical trials or awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This is especially great news for many in our community. African Americans, who make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for more than half of new HIV diagnoses, according to the CDC.

But developing medicines that can one day help AIDS patients across the globe doesn’t do anything for patients who need them now. America’s biopharmaceutical research(?) companies have contributed more than $9 billion in improving health care in developing countries, especially those dealing with the global AIDS crisis. Some of these projects include support for HIV/AIDS clinics, funding for education and prevention programs, initiatives to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and donations of medicines for AIDS and related diseases. These companies also provide AIDS treatments at reduced prices in many countries.

AIDS is not an issue we can ignore. If you or a loved one needs information about HIV/AIDS, including testing locations, please contact the CDC 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 1-800-CDC-INFO or

Larry Lucas is a retired vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

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