Medical professionals and safer sex educators are facing an interesting phenomenon referred to as “condom fatigue”—the decreased use of condoms. For years, prevention education efforts have been anchored by the importance of using condoms when sexually active. Could that be why new infections continue to occur in such consistently high numbers? Possibly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that “1.2 million people in the United States (US) are living with HIV infection. One in five (20%) of those people are unaware of their infection. Despite increases in the total number of people in the US living with HIV infection in recent years, the annual number of new HIV infections has remained relatively stable. However, new infections continue at far too high of a level, with approximately 50,000 Americans becoming infected with HIV each year.”
But most likely one of the culprits is the better offering of HIV and AIDS prescriptions allowing individuals to have a better quality, longer lasting life that have contributed to the laissez-faire attitude of the community. Better medicine is most optimal when taken regularly, along with good nutrition, stable housing and healthy lifestyles. Better medicine can also be a deceptive façade, because it can mask the truth behind the curtain.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s most significant public health challenges.” It seems a little silly to consider that there would be anyone in the United States who would not have their HIV/AIDS facts straight, but in light of the continued rate of new infections, the condom fatigue, young people who are just becoming sexually active, and everyone else who may have tuned out the important facts, here’s a little HIV/AIDS 101.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infects cells of the immune system and destroys or impairs their function. Infection results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system, breaking down the body’s ability to fend off infections and diseases. (World Health Organization)
AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome) refers to the most advanced stages of HIV infection, defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or related cancers. (World Health Organization)
HIV can be transmitted five ways: through unprotected vaginal or anal sex; oral sex with an individual living with HIV; during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding from mother to baby; sharing needles; or transfusions of contaminated blood.
If more than 33.3 million people in the United States have died from AIDS-related illness, it’s significant to remember that 1.2 million are still living with HIV infection. And their lives are healthier, longer and happier than ever before. If you are living with HIV, you need to know how to NOT transmit it. If you are not living with HIV, you need to know how to NOT get it.
- Practice safe sexual behaviors like using condoms … every time.
- Knowledge is power. Know your HIV status … get tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
- Practice harm reduction best practices … use clean or disposable needles.
We may have not won the war on HIV or AIDS, but we, as an industry, are standing strong and making huge strides in the battle. There IS hope. Did you know that combination antiretroviral therapy prevents the HIV virus from multiplying in the body, which means the body’s immune cells are able to live longer and provide the body with protection from infections? And that mother-to-child transmissions are almost entirely avoidable with the correct medication administered during childbirth?
Carlotta McNeill, Director of Prevention Education for the Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina (AAS-C) in Raleigh, recently attended the Fifteenth Annual United States Conference on AIDS. This year’s theme is “Make Change Real: Unite. Speak. Act.” She will be working with AAS-C to Unite, by building local, state and national support networks; exchanging the latest information and learning cutting edge tools to address the challenges of HIV/AIDS; and enabling staff to attend conferences and trainings; Speak to legislators across the state to ensure that the importance of reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS is not lost in the surge to cut spending and reduce the deficit; and Act by substantially improving North Carolina and the nation’s public health infrastructure.
So on this red-letter, or rather Red Ribbon 30 year anniversary of World AIDS Day, remember that millions of people are living with HIV disease, and each year fewer AIDS-related deaths are occurring. Be smart, be safe and be aware … for yourself, for your partner, for your family, for your life.
Dolly is the former grants manager and public affair officer for the
Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina. She currently consults with
them on community affairs and grants.