A little more than 30 years ago, when the scope of the HIV/AIDS pandemic became public knowledge, an understandable mood of despair settled on the medical community and general public. The disease was deadly and seemingly immune to treatments available at that time. Now, those engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS are far more hopeful. There is reason for such optimism.
Scientists report that strides have been made in controlling the spread of disease, especially in developed countries. Millions of individuals around the globe live almost normal lives today thanks to the widespread use of anti-retroviral drugs to treat the virus. Education programs -- especially those that explain the role of condoms in breaking the infection cycle -- continue to produce lifestyle changes that slow the spread of the virus. There's even some talk about a possible end to the pandemic. That, in fact, was a major theme at the just-concluded International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.
Still, it's too early too celebrate victory in the HIV/AIDS war. The disease is still a significant health threat. In this country, health officials report that about 1.1 million people are infected with HIV and that 20 percent of them are not aware of it. The latter group is likely responsible for majority of the 50,000 or so new infections that occur in the United States each year.
Progress against the disease is uneven. While some parts of the United States report big decreases in HIV/AIDS cases, that's not true in the South. This region accounts for nearly half of the nation's new HIV infections and reports the highest rate of AIDS deaths and the largest number of people living with HIV. There are more than 1,400 people in Hamilton County currently living with a diagnosis of either HIV or AIDS, for example. Clearly, work remains to be done before real triumph against the sexually transmitted disease is proclaimed.
That effort goes forward. In the United States, researchers continue to seek more effective treatments and, perhaps, a cure. That work depends on a steady of influx of private and government funds. Both are at risk in the present economic doldrums. Yet any temptation to save money by reducing HIV/AIDS research funds should be squelched. Any savings would negated by increases in lives lost, suffering and rises in health care costs.
In Africa, the epicenter of the current HIV/AIDS campaign, progress is increasingly evident, thanks largely to an influx of U.S. funds initiated by President George W. Bush and continued since then. Money from groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, the George W. Bush Institute and an international consortium of public and private donors abets the drive to curb AIDS.
News, then, about some battles against HIV/AIDS is generally positive, but the larger war continues. Though gains are encouraging, much remains to be done before HIV/AIDS can be deemed a plague of the past.