In light of the recent focus on Zika virus and the last few years’ attention to Ebola, there’s been little attention to HIV/AIDS. Today, December 1, World AIDS Day, is a good time to remember that millions still suffer from this disease and thousands contract it annually.
According to the MMWR report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the statistics are still sobering:
- Globally, over 36 million people have AIDS and 2.1 million were newly infected in 2015; 1.1 million died.
- In the United States in 2013, approximately 1.2 million people had an AIDS diagnosis; approximately 44,000 were newly diagnosed in 2014.
There is good news, in that global access to treatment has increased greatly—in 2010, 7.5 million had access to antiretroviral treatment; by June 2016, over 18 million had access to antiretrovirals.
In 1975, while attending graduate school, I worked part time as a chemotherapy nurse for a hematologist in New York City. Because of his expertise, he was increasingly being asked to consult on cases involving seemingly healthy young men, most of them gay, who were contracting infections and showing blood profiles usually only seen in patients with immune systems weakened by disease or chemotherapy. We didn’t realize it then, but we were seeing the first cases of AIDS. It wasn’t until six years later, when reports of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, thrush, and Kaposi’s sarcoma began appearing in this population, that the CDC realized we were facing something new, virulent, and deadly.
AJN first reported on the AIDS epidemic in 1985 with an article by Joanne Bennett, a nurse who worked for New York City’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis. At the time, 12,000 cases had been reported and there was concern that as many as 500,000 were already infected. (For a more recent update on where we are, see “Nursing in the Fourth Decade of the HIV Epidemic,” in the March 2014 issue.)
We now know a lot more about the disease and how to treat it, but the numbers living with the disease are also far higher—The World Health Organization estimates that 70 million people worldwide have been infected and 35 million have died from AIDS since the epidemic began. This past week, a major trial of a new AIDS vaccine began in South Africa. Maybe, who knows, the end of AIDS may be in sight—we can only hope.