HIV virus

Are you old enough to remember when AIDS was “discovered?” How did it affect you at the time? What were you thinking about it in those early years when contracting HIV/AIDS was a guaranteed death sentence?

Or are you young enough that AIDS has always been part of the world? It’s something to avoid if at all possible, but should you become infected, you’ve always known that in wealthy countries like the U.S there are treatments. It is a manageable disease.

If you’ve been watching the news, you may know that June 5th marked 30 years since the first report about the illness was published. At that point, no one knew what it was, and it didn’t yet have the names HIV or AIDS. Medical knowledge has come a tremendous distance in that time. According to this article in the Washington Post, instead of receiving a death sentence, a 20-year old diagnosed today can expect to live to be 70 with proper treatment. And, as I learned from a radio interview with the CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, those who are HIV-positive and take appropriate medications and precautions have only a 4% chance of transmitting the disease.

Yet significant challenges remain, scientific, social, and logistical. Scientifically, the drugs can have tough side affects, and there’s still no cure. Socially, the stigma of being HIV-positive or living with AIDS  is still significant. It prevents people from getting tested and seeking treatment. And that’s a crime when proper treatment not only saves the individual, but also cuts transmission by 96%! That’s so close to stopping it! Logistically, education, treatment, and support are unattainable or simply unavailable in many parts of the world.

Like most serious diseases, people suffering from untreated HIV/AIDS are much more likely to also suffer from hunger or poverty.  Ending the disease – or at least ensuring people everywhere get proper treatment – would help a lot in reducing hunger. It helps both those inflicted with the disease, and it help their children. So take action this month. June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. Get the test yourself, both to know your status and to show others it’s okay to get tested. Make a donation to the ELCA HIV/AIDS Campaign. Your money is used both domestically and internationally to provide such things as HIV/AIDS education, access to tests and treatment, and support of AIDS orphans. And spread the word that we all have a part to play in ending HIV/AIDS. If you’re not sure how to get started, resources to help are available here. There are lots of ways to help; please get involved.

-Nancy Michaelis