33 million people around the world have AIDS, according to a United Nations estimate.
Needless to say, that’s a lot of people, and it’s depressing to think that most AIDS medications are very expensive. Most people in the West view AIDS as an irritating chronic illness now, since it can often be managed with drug cocktails. But in developing countries, AIDS is a death sentence, and despite the best efforts of health organizations, the infection rate is on the rise. Not just in places like Africa and Asia, but here in the West. We’ve come a long way from the scared early ’90s now, and maybe that’s not a good thing.
In the West, it’s on the rise because people view it as a manageable condition. Because people don’t view it as the bogeyman anymore, and because of certain subcultures which sadly cultivate a lack of responsibility about STIs and disclosure of disease status. I am not usually one to pass judgment on subcultures, but I do take exception to the idea that it’s ok to infect other people with AIDS, or to the concept that people who cheat on their partners are magically immune to STIs.
In other parts of the world, AIDS infection rates rise because there is not enough education, because women are afraid to protect themselves, because of cultural values which reject transparency and basic steps to prevent STI infection, like the use of condoms. Because governments deny the fact that AIDS exists and that it needs to be dealt with.
At least many Westerners have access to expensive drugs and state of the art treatment. Victims of AIDS in Africa aren’t that lucky, and many of them leave orphans behind. In places like China where the truth of AIDS is ignored, AIDS patients can be lucky to get any sort of treatment.
The crushing reality of this disease can seem insurmountable. As individuals, it may seem like there’s not much we can do. But we can get tested on a regular basis, and we can encourage disclosure of infection status with AIDS and other STIs. If we are open about things, shame and stigma tend to be less problematic. The response to “I have an STI” shouldn’t be shock or horror, it should be “ah.” Perhaps if people weren’t afraid to be frank, transmission in illicit subcultures wouldn’t be such a problem.
We can also be smart about protecting ourselves, and encouraging others to do the same.
I don’t know what to do for the developing world. There are a lot of events and conferences going on today worldwide to talk about this very issue, and I just don’t know enough about medicine and about other cultures and their governments to come up with a solution to a problem which other people obviously haven’t been about to solve. I would hate to think that there is no solution, and maybe that’s why I keep trying.